Please Note: Birken Forest Monastery ('Sitavana') is no longer ordaining any new monastics or anagarikas. Those interested in ordination may wish to contact other monasteries.
ITEMS TO BRING:
After your booking has been confirmed by the Birken Office, please review this list of things to bring with you on your visit:
Loose, modest, "quiet" clothing (and, even in summer, a fleece coat or sweater) - see Dress Code in Guest Guide above
Heavy socks for indoors
Earplugs (if sharing, your roommate may snore)
Outdoor footwear (snow boots in winter season)
Rain gear (as appropriate)
Sunscreen & bug repellent (in spring/summer months)
The monastery has a good supply of meditation mats, cushions and benches for guests. However, please feel free to bring personal "sitting gear" from home if you would prefer.
You may wish to bring a shawl or blanket for warmth while meditating in the sala
You do not need to bring bedding; we have plenty of sheets, pillowcases and duvets for your use while you are here
PLEASE NO hairdryers or other heavy users of electricity; please help us maintain a green monastery
PLEASE NO computers or other devices - guests are not permitted to use the internet while here
Birken Upāsikā Program
Birken Upāsikā Program: The term "upāsikā" means “one who sits close by”; it has come to refer to dedicated lay Buddhist practitioners who join with monastics in the practice of the Dhamma and who commit to follow the Three Refuges and Five Precepts. Building on the model established at other Western monasteries in the Ajahn Chah Thai Forest Tradition lineage, Birken Forest Monastery ('Sitavana') is now establishing its own Birken Upāsikā Program to provide a formal structure for lay people to practice and study together, in close relation to the monastery. The program will be coordinated entirely by the laity (participants will be involved in the coordination through various volunteer tasks), and spiritual guidance will be provided by Ajahn Sona, both at the designated Upāsikā gatherings as well as virtually through monthly recorded Dhamma talks and occasional online Skype interviews. Regular Upāsikā Days will be held at Birken each year, where upāsikās (female) and upāsakas (male) will be able to renew their commitment to the Three Refuges and Five Precepts, learn the various forms and conventions of the Thai Forest Tradition, participate in study sessions focused on specific Dhamma topics, practice meditation, and share experiences, all under the spiritual guidance of Ajahn Sona. Over the course of the year, sessions will cover the broad themes of meditation, sutta study, devotion and ritual, daily life practice and Dhamma in the broader world. The theme of the first year will be a systematic study and practice of "The Noble Eightfold Path", with monthly audio talks and assigned readings. Participants must make a formal commitment to the program (committing to attend all designated Upāsikā Days and to take part in monthly study/practice assignments). Upāsikās will be encouraged to stay connected to fellow dedicated lay practitioners throughout the year, by way of visits to the monastery, local group gatherings and an online virtual community.
To provide dedicated lay practioners with a formal spiritual training structure that will aid in the deepening of individual practice and self-discipline
To deepen lay practitioners' intellectual and experiential understanding of the Teachings of the Buddha, as well as the forms and conventions of the Theravada Thai Forest Tradition
To foster a supportive community of ‘kalyanamittas’ (spiritual friends) for like-minded lay people affiliated with Birken Forest Monastery
To strengthen the symbiotic relationship between Birken's ordained Sangha (monastics) and affiliated lay practitioners (upāsikās) - lay people providing monastics with their material needs and monastics providing lay people with spiritual guidance and example
By committing to the Birken Upāsikā Program, participants will aspire to:
Take the Three Refuges and the Five Precepts as the foundation of their spiritual life (see below)
Take the Theravada Thai Forest Tradition as the focus of their Buddhist practice
Commit to integrate Ajahn Sona's Upāsikā Program teachings and modes of practice into their daily practice life
Attend the scheduled Upāsikā gatherings at Birken Forest Monastery (see below)
Commit to practice meditation daily
Designate one ‘Day of Observance’ per week, on which a heightened importance is given to their spiritual practice (e.g. following the Eight Precepts and making more time for meditation on the weekly lunar days)
Find some time each year to go on a long retreat of at least 7 days, which could be one of the designated weeks at Birken (see below)
Cultivate a basic working knowledge of the Teachings of the Buddha through sutta study, audio Dhamma talks, etc.
Provide support to the Sangha, according to their means and abilities
Keep to the training for at least one year after having made the formal commitment
The Three Refuges & Five Precepts
1. To the Buddha, I go for refuge.
2. To the Dhamma, I go for refuge.
3. To the Sangha, I go for refuge.
1. I undertake the precept to refrain from taking the life of any living being.
2. I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
3. I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake the precept to refrain from false and harmful speech.
5. I undertake the precept to refrain from consuming intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.
Typical Upāsikā Day Schedule:
(Note: If you are just coming for the day, you may plan to arrive at 8:00am)
8:00am Arrival of Day Visitors
8:30 – 9:00am *Paying Respects to Ajahn Sona and Homage to the Triple Gem
*Upāsikā Renewal Ceremony: Taking the Three Refuges & Five Precepts
9:00 – 10:00am *Introductory Talk by Ajahn Sona
10:00 – 11:00am *Devotion & Ritual 101 (training in various formal monastery rituals, etiquette & chants of the Thai Forest Tradition)
11:00 – 11:15am *Group Preparation for Dana Meal Offering (bring a main dish food item to share in the meal offering)
11:15 – 11:30am *Group Dana Meal Offering to Monastics, Traditional Pali Meal Blessing & Water Pouring Ceremony
11:30am – 1:30pm Lunch and Cleanup / Free Time
1:30 – 2:15pm *Guided Meditation on a Theme
Upāsikā Day#1: Guided Meditation on the Breath
Upāsikā Day #2: Guided Meditation on Death
Upāsikā Day #3: Walking Meditation
2:20 – 4:20pm *Dhamma Talk on Designated Topic, followed by Q&A
4:30 – 6:30pm *Teatime – Upāsikā Sharing Circle & Group Discussion
6:30pm *Taking Leave - Asking for Forgiveness Ceremony & Close