Thai Forest Tradition and EBT

I know the dispute about Bhikkuni ordination. I’ve heard about a different view on the Abbot position (as per Ajahn Sujato Dhamma talk).

What are the other differences? What is not right (or different) in FT according to EBT?
I am not attacking, I am just interested. The Thai Forest tradition is close to my heart and I respect many teachers very much.

Thank you

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Hi Jarek,

I know, the tradition is very dear to me as well. If I were to make a list of all the things I love about it, it would take a long time!

But as for differences with the EBTs, here are a few that come to mind:

  • Bhikkhuni ordination
  • The authority of the teacher is preferred over the suttas
  • There’s a fairly widespread, though far from universal, acceptance of a kind of quasi-permanent “original mind”
  • It treats its own Vinaya communion as separate (and better) than others.

But it’s also important to bear in mind that the “Thai Forest Tradition” is complex, diverse, and evolving. Originally they were the austere forest renunciates, now they are often among the wealthiest monasteries in Thailand. Some have taken on a more active political role as royalists and nationalists. And so on. Just be aware that, like everyone else, Thai forest monks are people, with differences, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. but it’s still a source for vitality in Thai Buddhism, and a support for many genuine spiritual seekers.


Good question and thanks for the reply Bhante.

Could you speak a bit more on this? I didn’t know this was the case.

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Well, from the perspective of the Vinaya Pitaka, there is only one Sangha. That Sangha is irreducibly whole, and must perform all acts together in harmony, so far as the given monastic precinct (sīmā) applies. There are two basic exceptions to this:

  1. Schism: where one community, with the intention of disrupting the Dhamma deliberately separates and performs a distinct patimokkha in order to create a schism. It’s possible to argue that the Mahayanist sangha is schismatic relative to the Theravada, although I believe this is not true. But in any case, it certainly doesn’t apply within Theravada.
  2. “Different communion”: In fact the Thai forest tradition—and they are not alone in this, I might add—doesn’t tend to invoke schism so much, but the idea of nānāsaṁvāsa. This is based on a Vinaya concept where monastics do not perform formal acts together. There are two bases for this. I can’t recall the exact details off the top of my head but it is something like:
    1. A monastic declares themselves to be nānāsaṁvāsa. They may do this if they know that the Sangha they are with is corrupt.
    2. A Sangha declares that an individual is nānāsaṁvāsa. The inverse case, if a Sangha decides that a certain monastic is corrupt.

The Thai forest tradition essentially regards anyone outside of their circle as nānāsaṁvāsa. This happens inside the tradition, too: the Dhammayuttika monks usually treat the Mahanikaya monks (like me) as nānāsaṁvāsa. This is not done based on any actual bad behavior, and does not go through the proper Vinaya procedure. It is simply assumed.

To be fair, there are lots of bad monks roaming around Thailand, and this provides a way of protecting the Sangha. So even though I don’t agree with it, I can see that, in its context, it has a rationale behind it.

Anyway, if as a non-inner circle monk I show up at a forest monastery, I will be made to sit at the end of the line for meals, and take food after everyone else. (Except nuns, of course!) I can’t sit in the patimokkha, or take part in any other formal acts of the Sangha. This is all in direct violation of basic principles of Vinaya.

Apart from that, it’s pretty normal: I can usually still get a place to stay, and participate in the Sangha life. You’re not a pariah or anything, but you can’t be a full member of the Sangha. Typically, in the monasteries I was in, if a monk wanted to stay long term, after some time the Sangha would consider it and accept them on a case by case basis.