Forest Recollections: Wandering Monks in Twentieth-Century Thailand, by Kamala Tiyavanich

Forest Recollections

“I stayed [in the forest] for two nights. The first night, nothing happened. The second night, at about one or two in the morning, a tiger came–which meant that I didn’t get any sleep the whole night. I sat in meditation, scared stiff, while the tiger walked around and around my umbrella tent (klot). My body felt all frozen and numb. I started chanting, and the words came out like running water. All the old chants I had forgotten now came back to me, thanks both to my fear and to my ability to keep my mind under control. I sat like this from 2 until 5 a.m., when the tiger finally left.” –A forest monk

During the first half of this century, the forests of Thailand were home to wandering ascetic monks. They were Buddhists, but their brand of Buddhism did not copy the practices described in ancient doctrinal texts and many of their actions and ways of thinking will seem familiar to Vedantins. Truly they showed that all paths lead to one common destination.

Combining interviews and biographies with an exhaustive knowledge of archival materials and a wide reading of ephemeral popular literature, Kamala Tiyavanich documents the monastic lives of three generations of forest-dwelling ascetics and challenges the stereotype of state-centric Thai Buddhism.

Anyone looking to expand their Vedantic practice and work on improving their spiritual purity will benefit from peeking into the lives of these early twentieth-century monks. The study of these monastic lineages and practices also enriches our understanding of Buddhism in Thailand and elsewhere.

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