The Monastic Community
There is a worldwide monastic community associated with Ajahn Chah. Temple Forest Monastery is most closely related to the communities in Europe and North America, while being part of the international community based in Thailand.
The monastic community members at Temple Forest Monastery are:
Ajahn Jayanto – abbot
Born in Boston in 1967, Ajahn Jayanto grew up in Newton and attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison, during which time a period of world travel kindled a great interest in the spiritual life. A meditation class at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center led him to live for a while at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, where he made plans to join the monastic community of Ajahn Sumedho as a postulant at Amaravati Monastery in England in 1989. Taking bhikkhu (monk) ordination at the related Cittaviveka Monastery in 1991, he trained there and at Aruna Ratanagiri Monastery until 1997, at which point he embarked on a period of practice in Thailand and other Asian Buddhist countries. He returned to the UK in 2006, where he lived at Amaravati until moving to Temple in 2014. Since 2009 Ajahn Jayanto has helped to lead the efforts to establish a branch monastery in New England, and he now serves as abbot of Temple Forest Monastery.
Ajahn Anando was born in Blackheath, south-east London in 1966. He served as a soldier in the British army for three years, mostly in West Germany. After leaving the military he studied health and fitness at East London University, then established a small fitness company which he ran successfully for several years. His interest in meditation began in 1992 and increased to the stage where ordination as an anagarika became an obvious step. After several years in training he took higher ordination as a bhikkhu in 1997, with Ajahn Sumedho as preceptor. He spent his first two years as a monk at Amaravati Monastery, then moved to Thailand, living for a year at Wat Pah Nanachat and then a year at Tan Ajahn Anan’s Monastery near Rayong. This was followed by four years helping to establish a new forest monastery near Melbourne, Australia. For the past ten years he has been helping at Amaravati while also caring for his aging parents. Though this commitment keeps him in the U.K. most of the time, Ajahn Anando helps to guide Temple Forest Monastery and it is hoped he will be able to fully join Ajahn Jayanto in a role of shared responsibility for the monastery sometime in the future.
Ajahn Caganando (pronounced Cha-ga-nan-do) was born in New York. After receiving a degree in physics he worked in solar and wind energy research. Interest in meditation and the roots of Buddhism led to extended practice in several Buddhist monasteries in India and Thailand. Living on staff at the Insight Meditation Society for five years, he met Western monks from the Ajahn Chah lineage. He went to Wat Pah Nanachat in Thailand in 2002, taking bhikkhu ordination in 2004 with Luang Por Liem as his preceptor. He joined Abhayagiri Monastery 2007-2010, and helped establish the first branch of Abhayagiri, the Pacific Hermitage 2010-2015. He spent the vassa of 2013 with Ajahn Jayanto at the fledgling Boston Vihara, and he has been living at Temple Forest Monastery since June 2015.
Kumaro Bhikkhu was born in New York. He ordained at Wat Pah Nanachat, Thailand in the year 2005 with Luang Por Liem as preceptor. He arrived at Temple Forest Monastery in April 2017.
Ajahn Jivako was born in England and grew up in the Greater Boston area. He became a monk at Wat Pah Nanachat in Thailand, and has spent four years at Buddha Bodhivana Monastery, a branch near Melbourne, Australia.
Tan Sunyo is originally from Massachusetts. He arrived on the property in July 2014. He took Pabbajja at Temple with Luang Por Liem acting as preceptor in June of 2015, and took Upasampada with Luang Por Pasanno acting as preceptor in June of 2016.
Tan Candapanyo was born on March 8, 1983 as Stephen Freda but was commonly known as Larry Massachusetts. He is from the Philadelphia area. He was ordained in Thailand as a novice.
Santi was born and raised in central Connecticut as Michael Keezing. In his early years, he was drawn to the spiritual side of life, but samsara lured him away into a varied worldly career. He studied English at college, and later earned an MFA in creative writing. He has worked as an outdoor educator, Peace Corps volunteer, yoga instructor, high-school teacher, college lecturer, editor, and writer. He has travelled in the American West, Alaska, Spain, and Asia, and lived in the Central African Republic, Japan, and most recently, the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. He has been married and raised a daughter. In 2014, a retreat at the Insight Meditation Society brought the teachings of the Buddha to the center of his agenda. Intensive subsequent study and practice of the dhamma (the nature and truth of experience), along with the arrival of Temple Forest Monastery not far from his home, led him to recognize the profound value of renunciation and the monastic form for himself, others, society, and indeed, all beings. He took precepts as an anagarika in 2016, and in 2017 ordained as a samanera with Luang Por Viradhammo as preceptor and Ajahn Jayanto as acariya.
Seeking to discover the most beneficial way to live his life in a world he felt was falling apart, Nathan came to the conclusion that humanity needed a genuine education on the real causes for harmony. The summer after high school graduation, he began studying and practicing the teachings of Ajahn Chah and realized such an education must begin within one's own heart and mind. This understanding is what led him to fully pursue the way of training laid down by the Buddha.
John was born in Massachusetts in 1991. He joined the community at TFM in April 2017.
Anagarika Jeff was born in 1993 and raised in North Attleboro, MA. While attending and after graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park, he went abroad and travelled the world, including Thailand. Back in the US, the monks at Wat Nawamintararachutis recommended that he come visit Temple Forest Monastery, where he went on to serve the 2016 winter retreat. He took precepts as an anagarika before the 2016 vassa. He enjoys the simplicity of monastic life.
The following history has been slightly adapted from the Abhayagiri Monastery website.
Ven. Ajahn Chah (Phra Bodhinyana Thera) was born into a large, comfortable family in a rural village of northeast Thailand. In his early youth, he took samanera (novice monk) ordination and on reaching the age of twenty, he became a bhikkhu (a fully-ordained Buddhist monk). In his early monastic life, Ajahn Chah studied Buddhist teachings and scriptures, but yearning for meditation guidance and dissatisfied with the slack standard of discipline at his monastery, he took on the life of a tudong or wandering monk. As a tudong monk, Ajahn Chah lived austerely in forests, caves and cremation grounds, and sought out the guidance of local meditation masters, including Ajahn Mun.
In 1954, after many years of practice without a permanent home, Ajahn Chah was invited to settle in a dense forest near his birth village. Over time, a large monastery called Wat Pah Pong was established there as monks, nuns, and laypeople came to hear Ajahn Chah’s teachings and train with him. His teachings and community contained elements commonly held throughout the forest tradition focusing on a simple, aesthetic, and rigorous lifestyle, discipline and moral conduct, meditation and contemplation, and a transformative inner experience rather than a reliance on scholarly knowledge. Although these forest tradition elements were held in common, every forest monastery and teacher also had their own flavor. Ajahn Chah added to his teachings an emphasis on community living and right view as essential aspects of the path to liberation.
Ajahn Chah was remarkable for his integrity, humor, and humanness; for his sense of surrender to spiritual practice and the present moment; and for his ability to connect with people from many backgrounds in a spontaneous, straightforward, and joyous manner. He taught in a simple, yet profound style and emphasized practice in everyday life. As disciples gathered around Ajahn Chah, branch monasteries in his lineage also began to be established. Many new branch monasteries have continued to be established even after his death in 1992. At present there are more than three hundred forest branch monasteries in Ajahn Chah’s lineage spread throughout Thailand and the world. Environmental conditions may cause the details of life amongst these many monasteries to vary somewhat; but in all of them, simplicity, heedfulness, and the strict adherence to monastic discipline support and encourage residents to live a pure life focused on the continuous cultivation of virtue, meditation, and wisdom.
Ajahn Sumedho & the Western Sangha
Ajahn Chah’s style of teaching and personality had a unique ability to reach people of other nationalities. Many foreigners came to learn from, train under, and take ordination with Ajahn Chah. The first of these was the American-born monk, Ajahn Sumedho, in 1967. In 1975, a group of Ajahn Chah’s foreign disciples were asked by villagers from Bung Wai to start a new branch monastery. Bung Wai was a small rural town not far from Ajahn Chah’s monastery. Ajahn Chah agreed, and established Wat Pa Nanachat (The International Forest Monastery) as a monastic training center for internationals, with Ajahn Sumedho as abbot. Since that time, Wat Pa Nanachat has become a respected forest monastery and opened up additional branches, including some in remote forest and mountain locations. Wat Pa Nanachat currently includes, under its umbrella in Thailand, over fifty monks representing twenty-three nationalities.
In 1976 the English Sangha Trust invited Ajahn Sumedho to establish a Theravada monastery in London. Along with a small group of monks, Ajahn Sumedho heeded the request and established the first branch monastery in Ajahn Chah’s lineage outside of Thailand. Since that time, a number of Ajahn Chah branch monasteries have been created throughout Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand – including England, Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany, Portugal, Canada and the United States.
This development has included the establishment of a community of nuns (siladhara). The first residence specifically for nuns was set up in 1980 close to the Chithurst Monastery and the second in 1984 as part of the Amaravati community.
All of these monasteries, under the guidance of many of Ajahn Chah’s senior Western disciples, are allowing the example of forest monasticism to spread westward. They are permitting the direct and simple practice of the Buddha’s original teachings, as it has been preserved in the forest tradition for 2500 years, to accompany Buddhism as it more generally transfuses throughout and adapts to the Western world.
These monasteries are initiated only at the request of the lay community and are supported entirely by the lay community’s generosity. They provide centers for monastic training, as well as teaching and practice for the lay community. Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery, the first monastery in the United States to be established by followers of Ajahn Chah, was founded in 1996 in the mountainous forests of northern California. Temple Forest Monastery, bordering a National Wildlife Refuge in the small town of Temple, New Hampshire, is the second such branch.