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The Pacific Hermitage

Image: Pacific Hermitage
Ajahn Sudanto at the Entrance to thePacific Hermitage

Nestled in the Columbia River Gorge, along a forested stretch of White Salmon’s Jewett Creek, is a small community of Theravada Buddhist monks.  The Pacific Hermitage was established in 2010, as a branch of Abhayagiri Monastery (Redwood Valley, California) after lay Buddhists expressed a strong interest in and willingness to support monastic teachers for this region.

The Hermitage is a small monastery, intended to be a place of solitude where several monks can devote much of their time to meditation, study and simple living.  The monks walk daily through the nearby town of White Salmon, Washington to accept food offerings for their daily meal and make themselves available as spiritual resources for the community. They offer Buddhist teachings, answer questions and lead meditation locally and in the region.

Because the Hermitage is a small residence only for monastics, it is not able to accommodate overnight guests.  It has no monastic training program.  Those interested in monastic training, residential retreats or staying overnight in a monastery of this tradition are encouraged to contact Abhayagiri or Temple Forest Monastery (New Hampshire).

Abhayagiri Monastery was the first United States monastery established by followers of Ajahn Chah, a respected Buddhist master of the Thai Forest Tradition of Theravada Buddhism.

The Tradition

The Thai Forest tradition is one branch of the Theravada Buddhist tradition. Theravada Buddhism, also known as the Southern School of Buddhism, is present throughout Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka. The Theravada tradition is grounded in the discourses recorded in the Pali Canon, the oldest Buddhist scriptures. Theravada literally means the Way of the Elders, and is named so because of its strict adherence to the original teachings and rules of monastic discipline expounded by the Buddha.

The Thai Forest tradition is the branch of Theravada Buddhism in Thailand that most strictly holds the original monastic rules of discipline laid down by the Buddha. The Forest tradition also most strongly emphasizes meditative practice and the realization of enlightenment as the focus of monastic life. Forest monasteries are primarily oriented around practicing the Buddha’s path of contemplative insight, including living a life of discipline, renunciation, and meditation in order to fully realize the inner truth and peace taught by the Buddha. Living a life of austerity allows forest monastics to simplify and refine the mind. This refinement allows them to clearly and directly explore the fundamental causes of suffering within their heart and to inwardly cultivate the path leading toward freedom from suffering and supreme happiness. Living frugally, with few possessions fosters for forest monastics the joy of an unburdened life and assists them in subduing greed, pride, and other taints in their minds.

Forest monastics live in daily interaction with and dependence upon the lay community. While laypeople provide the material supports for their renunciant life, such as almsfood and cloth for robes, the monks provide the laity with teachings and spiritual inspiration. Forest monks follow an extensive 227 rules of conduct. They are required to be celibate, to eat only between dawn and noon, and not to handle money.

For more on the monastic tradition see the “The Thai Forest Tradition” on the Abhayagiri website.

The Monks

Ajahn Sudanto

Ajahn Sudanto
Ajahn Sudanto

Born in Portland, Oregon in 1968, Ajahn Sudanto became interested in Buddhism and Indian spiritual traditions while completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Oregon. After graduation he set off for a open-ended period of travel and spiritual seeking in India and Southeast Asia. After a year of traveling, he proceeded to Thailand to begin a period of intensive study and meditation, which drew him to Wat Pah Nanachat in the Northeast of Thailand. There he met Ajahn Pasanno (then the abbot) and requested to ordain and train with the resident community, taking full ordination as a bhikkhu in 1994. After training for five years at Wat Pah Nanachat and various branch monasteries in the Ajahn Chah tradition, he came to Abhayagiri to live and train with the emerging sangha in America.

Ajahn spent the summer of 2007 together with Ajahn Karunadhammo in the Columbia River Gorge on retreat in an impromptu forest hermitage supported by the Portland Friends of the Dhamma. Later he was asked by the Abhayagiri community to lead the effort to establish the Pacific Hermitage in 2010.

Ajahn Karunadhammo

Ajahn Karunadhammo

Ajahn Karuṇadhammo was born in North Carolina in 1955. He was trained as a nurse and moved to Seattle in his early twenties where he came in contact with the Theravada tradition. In 1992, he helped out with a monastic visit to the Bay Area and spent two months serving a winter retreat at Amarāvati Monastery in England. Ajahn Karuṇadhammo made the decision to ordain while visiting Thailand in 1995. He asked if he could be part of the prospective California monastery (the then unnamed Abhayagiri) and was part of the original group that arrived at Abhayagiri on June 1, 1996. After training for two years as an Anagārika and Sāmaṇera, he took full Bhikkhu ordination in May, 1998 with Ajahn Pasanno as his preceptor. Since Ajahn Pasanno stepped back from his leadership role in 2018, Ajahn Karuṇadhammo and Ajahn Ñāniko guided the Abhayagiri community as co-abbots for two years. In June 2020, Ajahn Karuṇadhammo is stepping back from his administrative duties at Abhayagiri and is spending the vassa at the Pacific Hermitage. At some point after the vassa, Ajahn Karuṇadhammo plans to return to Abhayagiri and to enter a period of retreat.

Tan Rakkhito

Tan Rakkhito

Tan Rakkhito was born in 1961 in New Jersey. He lived most of his adult life in Oregon. As a young man he was drawn to the samana life he found in books, but at the time he was not able to follow that path. Many years later, after a life in the world, a timely reading of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s In the Buddha’s Words inspired him to once again explore monasticism. He found accord with the beloved and respected teacher Luang Por Pasanno, along with the Dhamma-rich Thai Forest Sangha. Tan Rakkhito took Anagārika precepts in November 2016, went forth as a Sāmaṇera in November 2017, and took full Bhikkhu precepts on November 4, 2018.