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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 Sudanto is on sabbatical for the entirety of 2021 and winter of 2022. He was residing at Abhayagiri Monastery for his first year away in 2021 and is spending the winter at Birken Monastery in British Columbia until his return in early Spring, 2022.

Ajahn Kassapo

Photo: Ajahn Kassapo Bhikkhu
Ajahn Kassapo

Ajahn Kassapo was born in Vietnam and raised in Guangdong, China. Beginning in 1998, he lived in the Los Angeles area, where he became interested in Buddhism. After visits to various monasteries, he decided to explore monastic life. He was a member of the lay support team during Abhayagiri’s 2005 Winter Retreat, during which time he decided to request to undertake the Anagārika training. He returned to Abhayagiri in May, 2005 and subsequently trained for two years as an Anāgārika and Sāmaṇera. Ajahn Kassapo received the higher ordination, becoming a fully ordained Bhikkhu on July 14, 2007 with Ajahn Pasanno as his preceptor.

In the Spring of 2009, Ajahn Kassapo left Abhayagiri to spend a year training in Thailand at Wat Pah Nanachat (the International Forest Monastery). He returned to Abhayagiri in 2010. Ajahn Kassapo also spent two separate years at the Pacific Hermitage in 2012/2013 and 2018/2019.

Ajahn Kassapo is residing at the Hermitage this winter.

Ajahn Cunda

Ajahn Cunda
Ajahn Cunda

Ajahn Cunda was raised in a warm and loving family in the suburbs of Northern Chicago and moved to California in 1996. His interest in Buddhism began in high school, continued in college, led him on a spiritual search to Asia, and eventually drew him towards Theravāda meditation practices. It was not until he first came into contact with the monks of Abhayagiri, however, that he understood how monastic training could lead to a life of wisdom, peace, and profound satisfaction. Ajahn Cunda headed for Abhayagiri in late 2005, and after two years as an Anagārika and Sāmaṇera, ordained as a Bhikkhu on May 22, 2008. Under Luang Por Pasanno and Ajahn Amaro, he trained at Abhayagiri for eight and a half years.

In 2014, Ajahn Cunda moved to Tisarana Monastery in Canada, to practice under the guidance of Luang Por Vīradhammo. He departed for a slightly more nomadic life in 2017, living in several western monasteries, including Bodhivana and Dhammagiri in Australia, Chithurst in England, and Santacittārāma in Italy, before returning to Abhayagiri in early 2020.

Beginning in the Fall of 2020, Ajahn Cunda spent 9 months at the Pacific Hermitage looking after the administrative and teaching duties while Ajahn Sudanto was on sabbatical. He left in mid July, but has returned again to reside at the Hermitage this winter.

Ajahn Ṭhitapañño

Ajahn Ṭhitapañño

Ajahn Ṭhitapañño was born in 1983 in Washington, DC and spent much of his childhood in the surrounding suburbs. While in college he developed an interest in spirituality and began to meditate daily and attend meditation retreats. After college, he decided to pursue his spiritual aspirations by becoming a lay resident at the Bhāvanā Society Forest Monastery and Meditation Center in West Virginia. After living at the Bhāvanā Society for a little more than a year, he decided to explore his interest in monastic life by visiting different monasteries. Upon arriving at Abhayagiri, he felt he had found the right place. Beginning in 2007, he trained as an Anagārika and Sāmaṇera. At Abhayagiri on June 13, 2009, with Luang Por Pasanno as the preceptor, Ajahn Ṭhitapañño was accepted into the bhikkhu sangha.

Ajahn Ṭhitapañño spent a year in Thailand at Wat Pah Nanachat (International Forest Monastery) in 2011/2012. He spent about 4 months at the Pacific Hermitage in 2013 and two and a half years at Harnham Monastery in 2015-2018. Ajahn Ṭhitapañño is residing at the Hermitage this winter.