The Forest Tradition of Thailand

Many thanks to Jim Wageman for these pictures of Wat Pah Nanachat, a Theravada Buddhist “International Forest Monastery” in Ubon Ratchathani, and for the captions.

In contrast to the Thai Buddhist practice at urban temples, where the emphasis is on scholastic study of the Buddhist canon, the Forest Tradition, practiced in the isolation of the wilderness or at rural retreats, emphasizes meditation and the strict observance of Buddhist principles. This particular temple is somewhat unique in that it was established, in 1975, to accommodate English-speaking monks, which it does to this day. It was founded by the highly revered Thai monk Ajahn Chah, himself an important figure within the Forest Tradition, and the first abbot, Luang Por Suedho (Robert Jackman), was an American from Seattle who had long been a disciple of Ajahn Chah’s.

The Thai name for this beautiful tree—native to Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and the Philippines—is yang-na (Dipterocarpus alatus Roxb.). It has been an important source of timber in Thailand, but it’s now illegal to cut it down without a permit; it is also a source of an oleoresin used in paint, lacquer, and perfume. This particular tree is about thirty or forty feet high.

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