Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Living in a forest meditation cave (photos)

Seth Auberon, Pat Macpherson, Wisdom Quarterly; Majorie Chiew (thestar.com.my, 2011)
Cave-dwelling Theravada Buddhist monastic under crot or hanging mosquito net

(Ajahn Cagino) Photos from the exhibition on the wandering Forest Tradition life
Scaling new heights: Sometimes there are no roads in the forest so climbing the rocks to get over to the other side becomes necessary to continue the journey, explains Ven. Cagino. Once he pulled this stunt and fell off the ledge. Fortunately, his fall was broken by the branches of a tree before he landed by the riverside.

Venerable Ajahn Cagino, 43, lives in a cave with two snakes and eight bats.
The cave is 1.2 miles (2 km) from the nearest village in Mae Hong Son, northern Thailand. Nestled in a deep valley hemmed in by high mountain ranges that border Burma, Mae Hong Son is isolated from the outside world and is covered with mist throughout the year.
“I’ve had enough of wandering,” says the Malaysian monk practicing within the Thai Forest Tradition, which is a branch of Theravada Buddhism.
For 12 years, Ven. Cagino had been walking through the remotest jungles of Thailand, before settling down in a cave. It was all part of the spiritual training of a forest ascetic.
All those years in the forest have brought out the best in him. Ven. Cagino, who is back in Malaysia on a vas (a three-month annual Rains Retreat observed by Theravada practitioners during the Asian rainy season), is out to raise funds to build an orphanage in Thailand.
“When I was a forest monk, the villagers gave me food as alms. Now I want to give back to these impoverished tribal people,” says Ven. Cagino who hails from Seremban....
Life in the Wilderness
Floating to the other shore: Meditating on a bamboo raft for spiritual tranquility.
[Ven. Cagino was once an award-winning photographer.] “What used to be the best photo was not the best anymore. At the next photo contest, you’ve to improve your skills and get the winning shot,” he says. “Nothing seems to be the ultimate.”

Mr. Cagino was miserable and disillusioned and wondered if there were more to life than its never-ending challenges. At 27, he turned his back on all material pursuits, sold off his worldly belongings, and eventually became a Buddhist monk.

Over the next two years, Mr. Cagino visited forest monasteries in Thailand and New Zealand to learn more about Buddhism.

Ven. Cagino was ordained as a samanera (novice) at 29 and stayed at Ang Hock Si Temple in Perak Road, Penang, for the next year and a half.

He trained as a forest monk under Thai master Ajahn Ganha for five years and was re-ordained at Wat Pah Nanachat (The International Forest Monastery), a Buddhist monastery tailored to foreigners in northeast Thailand, in the Theravada Forest Tradition.
The monastery was established by the late Ven. Ajahn Chah to provide English-speaking monastics the opportunity to train and practice in the way Buddha originally taught his disciples in the forests 2,600 years ago.
The Thai Forest Tradition stresses meditation and strict adherence to monastic rules (Code of Discipline). Known for its orthodoxy, conservatism, and asceticism, the Thais greatly respect monks who observe this tradition.
A photo exhibition offers a rare glimpse of the lives of Theravada Buddhist forest monks. Silence in the streams: A monk practicing sitting meditation by the running waters of a waterfall (courtesy of Ajahn Cagino)
“I want to be a forest monk because Buddha himself spent much time dwelling in the forest. It is a strict, disciplined path,” says Ven. Cagino.
During the past 12 years, he was in and out of the forest with other monks. But six years ago, he set off alone into the deep wilderness to experience what it was like to be a forest monk. All he had with him were five pieces of cloth, an alms bowl, cup, umbrella, mosquito net, and walking stick.

“The stick is important as we can make some noise to warn snakes and other creatures of our presence when we’re walking through the forest,” says Ven. Cagino.
He described his wandering years as a journey of exploration and discovery, not a time of hardship.
“I enjoyed those years even though I know not if there was a meal for tomorrow or where I was heading. I just walked on to see the world,” he says.
A forest monk leads a nomadic life as he moves from one place to another to find the ideal location to practice meditation. He usually camps by the river for easy access to water supply.
“We stay 15 days at the most at one place -- not too long as we’re not supposed to feel attached to a place,” he explains. “If a place has ample food and shelter but is not conducive for meditation, we must leave promptly. If the place is great for meditation, the forest monk will stay a bit longer. It allows us to enhance our wisdom.”
Meal for the day: Monks returning with food offerings from their morning alms round.
Sometimes Ven. Cagino would ask villagers for directions to caves where monks had previously stayed. “There may be a fireplace and an old kettle left behind. Sometimes I will borrow a hammer and nails to make a seat for meditation,” he says.

The life of a forest monk is not without its challenges. There are times when they have to track through muddy paths, cross streams and rivers, or climb down cliffs. One can easily get lost in the jungle, too.
The forest monk will usually stay 1-2 miles (2-3 km) from the nearest village so that he can go for alms in the morning. He accepts only food, never money. More

A Photographic Journey of the Dhammafarers is an exhibition of 99 photos by Ajahn Cagino to raise funds for Dhammagiri Foundation to build an orphanage in Thailand. The exhibition took place  at White Box, Mont Kiara, Kuala Lumpur, Malysia then Citta Mall, Ara Damansara, Petaling Jaya, Sept. 8-20; Bandar Utama Buddhist Society, 3, Jalan BU 3/1, Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya, from Sept. 25-Oct 2; and 1 Utama Shopping Centre, Petaling Jaya, Oct. 8-9.

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