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METTA FOREST MONASTERY
P.O. Box 1409
Valley Center, CA 92082
(1 hour from San Diego)
Metta Forest Monastery (Wat Mettavanaram, or "Wat Metta" for short) is
a Thai forest monastery established recently in the rural hills outside
of San Diego. Residential meditation retreats are usually offered on
the Memorial Day, July Fourth, Labor Day, and Columbus Day weekends.
Individual short- or long-term self-retreats may also be made by
arrangement with the Abbot, Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Geoffrey DeGraff, an
American). If you are interested in visiting Wat Metta, please write to
the Abbot at the above address.
The following article, which appeared in abbreviated form in _Inquiring
Mind_ in 1993 (?) may help give you a flavor of the place.
* * *
FROM SAN DIEGO WITH METTA
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
A new Dhamma center--Metta Forest Monastery--is developing in the
mountains of northern San Diego County. At the moment it consists of
a tract of land with a few temporary buildings, a small community of
people and a plan. The purpose of this article is to notify any
meditators who might be interested in visiting the land, getting to
know the people, or giving their input to the plan and helping to make
it a reality.
The land is a 60-acre avocado grove located on a hill surrounded by
chaparral, with Indian land on two sides and a spectacular view of Mt.
Palomar to the east. The location is very secluded and--a rarity for
Southern California--the air is clean and smells of wild rosemary and
sage: an ideal place for meditation. The grove is only ten years
old, and so is still relatively wild, with coyotes, an occasional fox
and deer and enough rattlesnakes to make mindfulness mandatory.
The community is a mixture of American, Thai and Laotian Buddhists.
This is also a rarity. Most Buddhist communities in the U.S. are
either primarily for Asians or primarily for Americans, as the aims
and expectations of the two groups can often be incompatible. Metta's
hope is that the Dhamma and Vinaya originally taught by the Buddha,
and as free as possible from later cultural accretions, Asian or
American, will provide a common meeting ground for serious Buddhists
of all backgrounds.
The spiritual head of the community is Ven. Ajaan Suwat Suvaco, a Thai
monk with 50 years in the robes. He has lived in the U.S. for the
last ten years, but for the 40 years before that he spent most of his
time training in the forests of Thailand under some of the most
respected teachers of the Thai forest tradition. He himself is very
highly regarded by his fellow members in the tradition.
For those who are unfamiliar with the forest tradition, it started in
the last century as an offshoot of the Dhammayut reform movement lead
by Prince Mongkut (later King Rama IV, of The King and I fame). When
Prince Mongkut was first ordained, he found Thai Buddhism in a
shambles caused by the Burmese sacking of the Thai capital in the late
18th century. In his personal quest to recover the original Buddhist
teachings and to practice strictly in accordance with them, Prince
Mongkut developed a following which eventually became the Dhammayut
At first this was largely a scholarly group centered in cities and
towns, but towards the end of the last century, two of its
members--Ven. Ajaan Sao Kantasilo and Ven. Ajaan Mun Bhuridatto--took
it one step closer to the original teachings by going into the forest
to practice meditation, since it was in the forest that Buddhism
This is a point whose importance is hard to over-emphasize. The goal
of Buddhist meditation has always been to take one beyond the relative
truths of one's cultural conditioning--and ultimately, even beyond the
relativities of time and space--to an absolute truth which can be
found only inside, at the point where mind and body meet. This
requires the sort of solitude that is best achieved when one is alone
with nature, able to observe what is left of one's 'self' when removed
from society's norms and concerns. In light of this fact, the forest
tradition has long emphasized the need for solitary practice--the
usual setting is a small hut or cave in the forest, with one's own
seat and path for meditation--and this has become one of the
characteristic features of the tradition.
Another is its wide repertoire of concentration and insight
techniques. The tradition recognizes that different techniques work
for different people, and within a very broad framework, one is
encouraged to find the techniques that work best for one, and to work
at them persistently. Among the usual starting techniques for gaining
a solid basis in concentration are breath meditation (Ajaan Lee
Dhammadharo, one of the forest masters, developed a very sophisticated
breath meditation technique), buddho recitation and the contemplation
of the elements and parts of the body.
Another characteristic feature of the tradition is its emphasis on
high moral standards, and on using the 13 classical ascetic
practices--such as eating no more than one meal a day--as tools for
overcoming one's most basic attachments.
Over the course of the years Ajaan Sao and Ajaan Mun inspired many
others--men and woman, lay and ordained--to take up the meditative
life in the forest as well, to the point where the forest tradition is
now one of the largest and most respected meditation traditions in
Thailand, and has attracted large numbers of Western followers.
In setting up Metta Forest Monastery, Ajaan Suwat hopes to make the
forest tradition--or, more importantly, the original Dhamma and Vinaya
of the Buddha--available to all Americans who are seriously interested
in reaching the goal the Buddha taught. A number of Thais and
Americans are helping him in this endeavor, including an American
monk, Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Geoffrey DeGraff), who trained for 14 years
within the forest tradition in Thailand before returning to help with
Metta. Ven. Thanissaro practiced breath meditation under a student of
Ajaan Lee for his first nine years in Thailand, up to his teacher's
death in 1986, and since then he has been teaching meditation in
Thailand, Singapore and now the U.S..
The plan for Metta is to build both a monastery where men may receive
full-time training as bhikkhus, and a center where laypeople can come
for individual short-term or long-term meditation retreats within the
balanced pattern of lay-monastic relationships designed by the Buddha.
(An affiliated center where women may ordain as nuns is tentatively
set for a later date.)
The building plans for Metta are still in the hearing stage, and the
specific plans for how the center is to be organized and run are still
relatively fluid. Thus any constructive input is more than welcome.
If you are interested in more information, or would like to help in
any way, contact Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Metta Forest Monastery, P.O. Box
1409, Valley Center, CA 92082.
May all beings be happy.
* * *
Updated: 17 Apr 95
Sources used: Thanissaro Bhikkhu