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Forest Meditation Monastery

April 5, 2013

April 2-3

We started out thinking we were going to rent a cottage in the jungle and meditate. Leaving Negombo, we drove south around Colombo and east, high into the mountains. Then down off the highway and deep into a jungle valley. By the stone cottage wasn’t ready. The water didn’t work, and so many things were broken.

Then a friend found a monastery through his sister that was open to us. We drove up higher into the mountains, way back into a verdant valley, and visited the place. After meeting the monks and chief incumbent, we were invited to stay. We spent one night in a hotel, then the next day we stored our stuff with the friend’s sister. We brought a minimum of things with us to the monastery—mostly white clothes.

We entered the monastery just before noon. The monks were very friendly and extremely helpful getting us settled. We stowed our belongings in a duplex kutir and went down to meet the chief incumbent monk. He seemed genuinely interested in us, asking many detailed questions about our spiritual life as our friend translated.

I was overwhelmed with the devotional mood. People think of Buddhism as dry and impersonal, but the deep mood of meditation brings out the love in everyone’s heart. I spent the afternoon in a mood of deep gratitude for being in contact with such nice monks.

  1. peaceandwisdom2013 permalink

    I saw your Facebook post about Venerable Ãcariya Mun Bhūridatta Mun and his biography. Thank you very much for posting it, otherwise I may not have come across it. I skimmed through the entire book and I am even more inspired now! That is exactly the intense, meditative, and contemplative life I am seeking. Ven. Mun was constantly absorbed in jhana and developing insight at the same time. He literally sought to eliminate all the fetters that bound him to Samsara, 24/7. With this kind of continuous, deep meditation with Right View one is surely on the track to release. I found the experiences and stories in the biography simply inspiring. This is similar to the forest monks you went on Rains Retreat with, correct?

    • The context for this comment is Venerable Ãcariya Mun Bhūridatta Thera’s Biography[5.2 MB PDF]. There are other interesting books on that site as well.

      Yes. Most monks nowadays live in modern, if simple, accommodations and have access to conveniences like cell phones. The problem with dhutanga as a lifestyle is that today there are few places where one can wander freely without running into vehicles, pollution, fenced-off farmland, toxic agrichemicals in the water, etc. However there are a few forest reserves in Sri Lanka where the dhutanga practices are still possible.

      Nandadhaja Bhikkhu has a strong desire to live like that, so when he arrives I think we will go on some dhutanga retreats. I am starting to look into suitable places now. But don’t kid yourself—this is an advanced practice, not for the faint of heart. Many people have a romantic notion of the wandering monk, but in reality it requires tough discipline and constant mindfulness.

      • peaceandwisdom2013 permalink

        “But don’t kid yourself—this is an advanced practice, not for the faint of heart.”- This is absolutely true. I am the first to say I have zero experience in these matters. This lifestyle requires extraordinary resourcefulness and heavy dependency on oneself.

        “Many people have a romantic notion of the wandering monk, but in reality it requires tough discipline and constant mindfulness.”- What I found inspiring from the biography is that Ven. Mun was constantly absorbed in deep meditation, practicing mindfulness, and seeking to see things as they are- something very similar to the experiences of monks in the Suttas.

        However, I am unsure about the aspect of wandering- it would seem to add a tremendous amount of stress on the monk to always be wandering which would place a high degree of uncertainty with regards to his safety, health, and shelter. Rather, a solitary (and secluded) life in a familiar location would seem to eliminate those concerns. I agree, and as stated in the Suttas, that seclusion, independence, mindfulness, “being a refugee onto oneself” would be conducive to progression and advancement on the path. But being a wandering monk would seem to place stress and concern on the mind.

        If I have misunderstood or misstated something, please correct me otherwise. I am open to your (or anyone else’s) perspective on this.

      • Well, it’s a great idea but in reality, wandering full-time like Acariya Mun is almost impossible these days. There are few areas of virgin forest left. And only certain areas where there are traditional villages where monks can go on pindapada.

        Animals aren’t dangerous, they mostly keep to themselves. I’ve lived for months camped in the Rockies at >9,000′, on an isolated beach in Hawaii, way out in the desert next to a huge wildlife reserve, at 6,000′ in the Four Corners area of New Mexico surrounded by wilderness, and never had a problem with wild animals. Animals are cool if you are. It’s people that are dangerous! So most monks stay in monasteries, even in remote locations like ours.

        That said, there are tremendous advantages to meditation in an isolated wild place. I’ve spent something like 3 years of my life living outdoors or in a tent, and I much prefer it to being cooped up in a building. You just bring the right gear and it’s quite safe and comfortable.

        I am going to investigate locations where it may be possible to wander, at least for a few days at a time. It may also be possible to take a 4×4 with some provisions out into the wilds somewhere, drop off a party of monks and pick them up a week or so later. This would be a snap for anyone with a little experience in wilderness camping. Real fun!

  2. peaceandwisdom2013 permalink

    I agree, there is something about being out in nature living the solitary lifestyle that is appealing- no distractions. Even though I haven’t ever lived like this!
    Your previous camping experience, interest in wilderness, and your meditative level would seem to match well with aspects of the Dhutanga lifestyle.

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