Thai Forest Dhamma

in the tradition of Lungphu Mun Bhuridatto

and his western disciples

Deutsch Francais Thai

About the Thai Forest Tradition

The Thai forest tradition is summarized in this quote from Luangta Maha Bua:
"This is the Lord Buddha's teaching: 'rukkhamūla-senasanam' - retreating into the forests and mountains. After ordaining as a monk, one should, according to 'rukkhamūla' go and live under the shade of a tree, in the forest, in the mountains, caves, or under rocky overhangs. These are places conducive to the practice, where one will not be disturbed. Your practice there will progress comfortably, smoothly and well. There you should practice diligently and with perseverance for the rest of your life!"

The Thai forest tradition of Lungphu Sao and Lungphu Mun

The Thai forest tradition was founded by Lungphu Sao and Lungphu Mun, who had numerous disciples in the 20th century. One of Lungphu Mun's most famous disciples – certainly the one best known in the West – was Ajahn Maha Bua (Boowa), affectionately known as Luangta Maha Bua. Throughout Thailand, he is considered to be the disciple of Lungphu Mun who followed most closely in his teacher's footsteps. Indeed, all of the most esteemed disciples of Lungphu Mun point out that Luangta Maha Bua was the one most responsible for carrying on the tradition of Lungphu Mun.

In the West, Lungphu Chah is probably the best known representative of the Thai forest tradition, and he is generally considered to have also been a disciple of Lungphu Mun. Technically, however, he was from the Maha Nikaya tradition within Thai Buddhism whereas Lungphu Mun was from the Thammayut tradition. Lungphu Chah went to visit Lungphu Mun on one occasion for three days to consult on his Dhamma practice, and subsequently respected and revered Lungphu Mun as his teacher. For this reason, he is generally regarded as a disciple of Lungphu Mun. However, he had never been trained by Lungphu Mun personally, whereas all of Lungphu Mun's other well known disciples (from the Thammayut tradition) had been trained by him, most of them over many years; Luangta Maha Bua, for example, was trained personally by Lungphu Mun for nine years. With this in mind, one would expect there to be significant differences between the Dhamma Vinaya of the Forest Tradition taught by Lungphu Mun (and his successor Luangta Maha Bua) and that taught in the tradition of Lungphu Chah.

The western disciples of the Thai forest tradition

The first western monk ordained in Thailand in the Thai forest tradition was Ajahn Paññavaddho, who came to live with Luangta Maha Bua in 1963. In fact, Ajahn Paññavaddho had first come to Thailand seven years before with two other western monks to be ordained in the Maha Nikaya tradition, but the others left within a year, and Ajahn Paññavaddho returned to England as a bhikkhu. At his second visit, he asked a friend to find the best meditation master in Thailand, and he was directed to Luangta Maha Bua. A couple of years later, Ajahn Cherry came to stay at Luangta Maha Bua's monastery, and both bhikkhus were ordained in the Thammayut tradition in 1965, becoming disciples of Luangta Maha Bua at Baan Taad forest monastery.
In Thailand, therefore, Luangta Maha Bua was the first esteemed meditation master with western disciples, and other Thai disciples of Lungphu Mun followed his lead. For example, Lungphu Tate, Lungphu Fun, Ajahn Singtong and Ajahn Suwat all had western disciples, i.e. they trained westerners who spent at least one rains retreat with them and received instruction in the Dhamma Vinaya of his master. However, most if not all of these westerners disrobed sooner or later, and most of the western disciples of Luangta Maha Bua also disrobed. Two years after the re-ordination of Ajahn Paññavaddho, Ajahn Sumedho arrived in Thailand and became the first western disciple of Lungphu Chah.

The representation of the Thai forest tradition in the West

A search of the Internet for information about the Thai forest tradition leads to a variety of articles, including an overview on Wikipedia. From these, one might assume that the leading western representative of the Thai forest tradition is Ajahn Sumedho, since Lungphu Chah's teachings were the first to become physically established in the West, becoming popular among Westerners and spreading all over the globe through the efforts of Ajahn Sumedho and his disciples. This raises the question of why much less has been known in the West about the western disciples from the Thammayut tradition of Lungphu Mun and Luangta Maha Bua. There are probably many reasons, but the most important are that the Lungphu Mun tradition emphasizes solitary practice in forests, favours a very austere mode of living, and puts primacy on spiritual attainment, as the following incident well illustrates. In 1974 Luangta Maha Bua was invited to England, and was accompanied by Ajahn Paññavaddho and Ajahn Cherry. At the end of the visit, Ajahn Paññavaddho was entreated by British laypeople to remain in England, and he asked Luangta Maha Bua if he should stay. Luangta Maha Bua then asked him, "Are you finished with your work?". With this, Ajahn Paññavaddho returned to Thailand with his meditation master, never to return to England again. Luangta Maha Bua's interest was in the spiritual well-being of his disciples, and in their efforts to 'finish their work' rather than in publicizing or spreading his teachings (or Buddhism in general) to the West.

Ajahn Paññavaddho (1925 - 2004) - disciple of Luangta Maha Bua.

Biography - Talks

Ajahn Cherry - disciple of Luangta Maha Bua. He was ordained the same day as Ajahn Paññavaddho. Still living at Wat Pa Baan Taad, he is now the most senior western bhikkhu in Thailand. He does not like to teach and avoids the public.

Ajahn Thanissaro - disciple of Lungphu Fuang and Ajahn Suwat.

More information: dhammatalks.org or wikipedia

Ajahn Dick Sīlaratano - disciple of Luangta Maha Bua

More information: forestdhamma.org

Ajahn Martin Piyadhammo - disciple of Luangta Maha Bua

Biography - Talks

Find more in the National Geographic Thai (Nov. 2012)

Read or download the English translation of the report.

Photographs by: Vayu Pukchom-ngarm
Story by: Theerayuth Nobnom
First published in Thai in the National Geographic Thai Edition,
November 2012