For those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Buddhist monk life, about two generations ago, maybe 50 or 60 years, a large group of Thai monks revived a 5,000 year old tradition and rekindled the forest monasteries in northern Thailand.
One of these monks, Ajahn Cha went on to accept foreign monks and train them in this discipline. Forest monks went back to the roots of Buddhism and studied and practiced as the Buddha himself did following as closely as possible to the ancient traditions. They are the “Navy Seals” of monastics. They risk considerable hardship both mental and physical, and their training is intense–to the point that most people would drop out.
They weed out the weak and push the strong to their limits through the many years of early training. There was a period about twenty years ago when this first generation of forest monks created a huge shift in consciousness in northern Thailand and a large number of fully enlightened monks emerged from this fertile period.
Now, a second generation of forest monks follows, and Ajahn Chandako is in that group. He and I lived at a monastery in southern Thailand together. I lasted about 18 months, but 25 years later he’s still in the mix, being a great example of what one can do to change the world for the better.
Our day together started with a meal and from there we met with a group of Buddhist nuns, and ended up in a shop in the Haight Ashbury area of San Francisco, surrounded by a wonderful group of monk-friendly folks who came to support the monastery building project Ajahn is doing in New Zealand, where he is abbot of Vimutti monastery. He’s transformed the landscape of his land, planting 10,000 (yes, 10,000!) trees and creating a forest where there was none.
It’s an inspiration to me to see what is possible with a life well lived and how much suffering we can alleviate through adhering to a strict spiritual path focusing on forgiveness and working for the greater good and abandoning our personal needs as the sole driving force in our lives.
[Above: A photo of Ajahn and a young monk to be as we were touring the trees of Golden Gate park here in San Francisco.]