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Forest monks

Many famous Buddhist priests are monks who are living in the forest. This way of life is called forest way. The monks ( "PHRA" - พระ) living in the forest are called "PHRA THUDONG" (พระธุดงค์).

Monk hut in forest temple
Monks decided to live in the forest in order to be far away from human beings. Some monks don't want to interact anymore with the common problems of everyday life of laymen and women or don't want anymore to interact with some monks that seek only fame, awards from the public or who don't follow strictly the 227 Buddhist rules. They seek for peace, tranquillity in order to study Dhamma and meditation.
Monk hut in forest temple

The forest way is a way of life coming from the "ISAN" area (อีสาน - northeastern part of Thailand). Thanks to these temples in the forest, some parts of the Thai forest were protected.

These forest monks do not live in one temple but move from one temple to one another. They often travel alone or with other monks. They go from temple to one another in order to listen the teaching of different famous monks ("ACHAN" - อาจารย์).
Phra Thudong
Phra Thudong

They sometimes sleep in Buddhist sanctuaries like caves. Of course they stay in a temple during the rain retreat. They imposed them-selves stricter rules. They usually eat only one meal per day. When they sleep, they sleep in the meditation position.

Monk hut in forest temple
They are often dressed with a robe colour brown and can be seen walking with an umbrella ( to protect from the sun and the rain ) and a little bag containing their usual things. Some monks don't walk around the country but stay in forest temples because most of Thai forests have now disappeared.
Monk hut in forest temple

When walking, they are of course confronted to bad weather such as storms, big rains. When wandering through forests or jungles they sleep in temples or use their net to protect them-selves against mosquitoes. When walking a long time, sometimes feet hurt and it became very difficult to walk through the jungle. Despite the heat and humidity inside the Thai jungle or forests, these monks still manage to concentrate and meditate. They are also confronted to diseases like malaria.



One famous forest monk is Phra Achan Lee (1907-1961). The story of his life is very interesting. He has been to Cambodia to discover Angkor, to Burma to discover the famous Schwedagon pagoda and to India to discover the places where Buddha has lived. Having been a monk for several years, he began to have doubts and then leave the monkshood. He then married a Thai woman, had children. Back in everyday life, he was confronted with many problems, so he decided to come back to monkshood. He was a monk again till his death. He has organised a big fair for the 2500th Buddhism birthday in 1957.

He stayed in forests at one time when forests were still a huge part of Thailand's landscape and tigers still numerous in Thai forests. Sixty years ago belief in spirits was very strong in Thai population. He often had to sleep in ominous places such as cemeteries in order to show to the inhabitants that these places were now out of any danger.
Tiger
Tiger

Nowadays, the forest monk's worst threat does not come from wild animals but from loggers, poachers and soldiers. Wandering monk's believed that tigers, wild elephants and snakes were guardian spirits that have disguised themselves in order to test the monks' real understanding and faith.

Thai people pretend that when meditating, Phra Achan Lee reached different levels of concentration and was able to command mosquitoes not to bite him and tigers not to attack him.



Phra Achan Tet (1902-1994) was the abbot of "WAT HIN MAAK PENG", famous royal temple in Isan area near the town of Sri Chiang Mai. As a forest monk he travelled a lot. Eighty years ago travelling was very long and dangerous. Thieves were numerous and police not very efficient. Only rich people could travel quite fast and with many belongings thanks to the use of elephants.

Wat Hin Maak Peng
One difficulty encountered by monks especially for just ordained monks is their relations with women. Almost all young Thai men, about 20 years old, do a rain retreat which lasts 3 months in temples. Often some monks are considered by young women as possible future mates. Phra Achan Tet has been confronted to some attractive women who make him clearly understand that they were not insensible to his charm. But he succeeded to follow strictly the Dhamma rules and remain in the Sangha.
Wat Hin Maak Peng

The forest monks have a mosquito net to protect them-selves while meditating or sleeping in the forests or jungles. Phra Achan Tet did stay several rain retreats in hill tribes. Looking for calm, solitude he was hoping that hill tribes people wouldn't bother him due to language barriers. On the opposite he became the village attraction because in 1930's he was one of the first monk to stay during a rain retreat in a hill tribe village. The forest monks are confronted to the problem to find their food every morning. In remote area it was not always easy to find Buddhists villagers.

The King Rama IV was present for the funerals of Phra Achan Tet(1902-1994).
Phra Achan Tet

In year 2008, wild elephants killed one Buddhist monk and seriously injured another in Thap Lan national park in Nakhon Ratchasima province. The two were members of a group of 11 monks who had gone to meditate in Khon Buri forest reserve, within the park boundaries. It was likely the herd attacked the monks because they feared for the safety of their young.

Phra Achan Tet
In the mid 1970s after the Royal family visited some of Man's disciples, the forest monks became well known nationwide. Forest monks' cremation were attended by the Royal family and several million people, were grander than those of the Sangha Council's members.
Phra Achan Tet

Then Phra Achan Tet stayed about fifteen years in the Phuket area. He received many religious awards there. But finally as a true forest monk, he resigned of all his religious positions and came back in Isan. He decided to settle in "WAT HIN MAAK PENG". Due to the presence of Phra Achan Tet, "WAT HIN MAAK PENG" is now a big temple with royal distinctions. It is a colorful temple with many buildings thanks to the money given by devotees. Money given to Phra Achan Tet was also used to improve other temples building in Nongkhai district and also schools and hospitals.

Near the town of Udon Thani in Isan area can be found the temple of "WAT BAAN THAT". The abbot is Luang Ta Mahabua, who is considered as the successor of Phra Achan Tet. This temple is a forest temple. In this temple the monks refuse to have water from bathrooms, they continue to get their water from a well. The abbot receives many donations and all the money is used for poor children.
Luang Ta Mahabua
Luang Ta Mahabua


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