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Doctrinal analysis of the origin and evolution of the Thai Kammaṭṭh̄ana tradition with a special reference to the present Kammaṭṭh̄ana Ajahns

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Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Chu, William
Capitanio, Joshua
Iwamura, Jane N.


The Thai Forest Tradition has a long history in Thailand. This style of forest meditation practice is purportedly based on the teachings of the Buddha from over 2,500 years ago and was further developed by Thai Buddhist ascetics since the nineteenth century. Within the forest tradition, monastics use wilderness and forest dwellings as their training grounds for spiritual practice. They not only focus on meditation, but also observe at least some forms of the ascetic rules (dhutāṅgas). The Thai Forest Meditation Tradition has served as the cornerstone for Western forms of Theravāda Buddhism, and therefore understanding the tradition's origins and contours will contribute to a certain degree of understanding of contemporary Buddhist practice.

This dissertation seeks to analyze the thirteen ascetic rules and meditation methods of the forest tradition in Thailand. While there has been much written about Thai forest traditions in recent scholarships, much of the academic research thus far has been primarily anthropological or historical in nature, with little focus on the doctrinal issues the practice raises. This project will bridge this gap and investigates three questions from a textual and historical perspective: (1) How is the forest tradition discussed in Buddhist canonical sources and subsequently developed? (2) How did the Thai masters reinterpret the Buddha's teachings within their practice? (3) What unique contributions did Thai forest masters or Ajahns make to the practice? My concentration will be on the Thai forest tradition of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries--a period of the tradition's rapid growth and development. Regarding these three research questions, I will also attempt to clarify some of the terms that are invoked in previous studies. For example, can "forest monk" and "dhutāṅgas monk" be used interchangeably, especially in terms of their use in the canonical sources? Furthermore, how do the rules that dhutāṅgas monks observe shape their practice? What type of specific meditation methods and techniques did monastics in the Thai forest setting develop?

In order to address these questions, it will be necessary to analyze and discuss the present Dhamma teachings of Thai Ajahns. In addition to analysis of key Buddhist texts, this dissertation will also draw from participants' observations, research and in depth interviews with prominent Thai forest Ajahns' disciples in Thailand. Through this multi-method approach, I will bring Thai forest teachings in to the conversation with Pāli canonical sources in order to highlight their relationship and outline the contours of present-day forest practice. This will provide a comprehensive, yet focused understanding of the Thai forest tradition.

Degree Granter

University of the West



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