Origins of Abhayagiri

Abhayagiri Monastery is the first monastery in the United States to be established by followers of Ajahn Chah, a respected Theravāda Buddhist master of the ancient Thai Forest Tradition.

The origins of the monastery can be traced to Northern California visits in the early 1980s by Ajahn Sumedho, Ajahn Chah’s senior western disciple. From that time onward, Ajahn Sumedho developed a devoted following of students. In 1988, these disciples formed the Sanghapāla Foundation with the mission of creating a branch monastery in the lineage of Ajahn Chah. In 1990, Ajahn Amaro accompanied Ajahn Sumedho to California and thereafter became the central teacher for the California students.

Efforts to establish the California monastery moved slowly until 1995. When Venerable Master Hsüan Hua, the founding abbot of The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) in Ukiah, California, approached his death, he instructed his students to give Ajahn Chah’s disciples 120 acres of CTTB-owned forested property in Redwood Valley. On several occasions Master Hua had made a point of stating that it had been his life’s dream to bring the northern and southern traditions of Buddhism together again. His offering was one of openhearted, ecumenical friendship and enabled the communities (just 15 miles apart) to be physically close and to relate to each other with an atmosphere of mutual respect and harmony.

In choosing a name for the new monastery it seemed appropriate to reflect on the kindness of this offering and the spirit in which it was intended. It also felt important to use a name in the Pāli language to confirm the sense of dedication to the Theravāda tradition. The name that was finally settled upon, “Abhayagiri,” means “Fearless Mountain.” The original Abhayagiri Monastery was in ancient Śri Lanka at Anurādhapura. That monastery was most notable for welcoming practitioners and teachers from many different Buddhist traditions. They lived there amicably with one another, distinct in their particular practices, but joined as one community. During the fourth century, Abhayagiri housed 5,000 monks.