Ajaan Dick Sīlaratano was born at Winchester, Virginia in 1948. After graduating from the University of Texas in 1970, he became disillusioned with academia. Abandoning plans for graduate school, he began instead to travel the world in search of spiritual fulfillment. After several detours, his wanderings eventually took him to India and Sri Lanka in 1975. Along the way he had chanced upon “The Heart of Buddhist Meditation” by Ven. Nyanaponika Thera, which so inspired his nascent interest in Buddhist practice that he went to stay with Ven. Nyanaponika for a short time at the Forest Hermitage outside of Kandy. Eventually returning to India, he asked permission to stay with Ven. Buddharakkhita Thera at the Mahā Bodhi Society in Bangalore. Following several months of intensive meditation, he requested the “Going Forth” under the tutelage of Ven. Buddharakkhita Thera on Visākha Pūja Day, 1975 and soon became Sāmanera Sangharatana.
While still ordained as a novice, he moved to Sri Lanka in late 1975. He first stayed with Ven. Nārada Thera at Vajirarāma on the outskirts of Colombo. There he met Ven. Nyanavimala Thera, a German monk known for his ascetic practices and wandering lifestyle, who insisted that he first ground his practice in a study of the discourses recorded in the Pāli Canon and of the rules of monastic discipline. Following Ven. Nyanavimala’s recommendation, Sāmanera Sangharatana moved to Sri Vajirañāna Dharmāyatanaya in Maharagama. There he received full bhikkhu ordination (upasampadā) in June of 1976 with Madihe Paññāsiha Mahā Nāyaka as his preceptor (upajjhāya). Having completed his first rains, Bhikkhu Sangharatana paid a second visit to Ven. Nyanaponika Thera in Kandy. This time he met Bhikkhu Bodhi, who gave him a copy of the book “Forest Dhamma,” a compilation of Dhamma talks given by Ven. Ajaan Mahā Boowa Ñānasampanno and translated from Thai into English by Ven. Ajaan Paññāvaddho.
Inspired by his first encounter with the “forest” Dhamma of the Thai Forest tradition, Bhikkhu Sangharatana took leave of his upajjhāya and traveled to Thailand in early 1977. He took up residence at Wat Bovornives Vihāra in Bangkok, where he was re-ordained into the Dhammayuttika Nikāya on April 21, 1977 with Somdet Phra Ñāṇasaṃvara as his upajjhāya. His ordination name was changed to Sīlaratano for that ceremony. He soon moved to Baan Taad Forest Monastery in the northeastern province of Udon Thani and was accepted as a student by Ajaan Mahā Boowa. He remained there for 17 years, serving as Ajaan Mahā Boowa’s attendant monk, before going off on his own to practice in the seclusion of the mountains and forests.
Shortly before Ajaan Mahā Boowa passed away in January 2011, Ajaan Dick Sīlaratano decided the time was right to set up a branch community of the Thai Forest Sangha in America. With the help of supporters in the United States and around the world, Ajaan Dick Sīlaratano and a dedicated group of monks and lay volunteers have begun building Forest Dhamma Monastery in the mountains of Virginia. The Monastery is an officially recognized member of the Dhammayut Order of the United States, and Ajaan Dick Sīlaratano is the Abbot.
Ajaan Dick Sīlaratano has been writing English translations of biographies of Thai Forest meditation masters and books on Buddhist meditation as taught in the Thai Forest tradition for many years. He has translated and authored several books, including “Acariya Mun Bhūridatta Thera: A Spiritual Biography”, “Arahattamagga Arahattaphala: The Path to Arahantship” and “Mae Chee Kaew: Her Journey to Spiritual Awakening & Enlightenment.”
In the realm of Dhamma practice, forests and mountains are tantamount to what we call graduate schools. Forests are where people who have thoroughly studied the Dhamma go to make the Buddha’s teaching their own. In doing so, they realize what we call Forest Dhamma.
The forest university is not for everyone. Most Buddhist practitioners stand in sight of the spiritual forests all their lives but never enter them, being content to listen to others who have been there and thus avoid the inevitable hardships. But a search for the truth of Dhamma is most easily carried out in remote areas beyond the noise and bustle of society. For that reason, the forest university has been the first choice of countless generations of Buddhist seekers. The key is solitude. The solitude offered by a forest environment is essential for anyone who hopes to go beyond written accounts of the spiritual path or an academic understanding of it, and arrive at the true nature of what the Buddha taught. For this reason, forests are the natural field of activity for those seekers striving to transcend suffering.
In truth, the real forest university has no specific location. It has no trees, no streams, no mountains. The real forest university is a state of mind. It is that great heritage of Forest Dhamma that has been brought down to us through the centuries. It is a state of mind which is regenerated throughout the centuries by a body of venerable teachers who have made the forests and mountains their proving ground. The real forest university is nothing less than the continuing body of Forest Dhamma itself.