The Forest Hermitage is of the Theravada Forest Tradition of N.E. Thailand but set in the Heart of England. It became an official branch, no.158, of Wat Nong Pah Pong in the province of Ubon in N.E. Thailand in June of 1999. It comprises Santidhamma, the original property where the monks live and where occasional events open to the public are held, and Bhavanadhamma, which is for nuns, female devotees and guests. And it is administered by the Buddha-Dhamma Fellowship who act as stewards of the Sangha, the community of monks founded by the Buddha more than 2,500 years ago.
Venerable Ajahn Khemadhammo (Chao Khun Bhavanaviteht) OBE was born in England in 1944. After training and practising as a professional actor for some years, in 1971 he travelled to Thailand via the Buddhist holy places in India. In December 1971 in Bangkok he became a novice and about a month later moved to Ubon to stay with Ajahn Chah at Wat Nong Pah Pong. On the day before Vesakha Puja of that year, 1972, he received upasampada as a bhikkhu. In HM the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2003 he was appointed an OBE for services to prisoners and the following year at HM the King of Thailand’s birthday in December he was made a Chao Khun with the title, Phra Bhavanaviteht.
In 1977 Luangpor Khemadhammo returned to the U.K. accompanying Ajahn Chah on his first visit to the West. Later, after Ajahn Chah had told him to remain here, he set up a small monastery on the Isle of Wight. Then in 1984, at the invitation of a group of Buddhist meditators that he’d been visiting monthly for some years, he moved to Banner Hill near Kenilworth and the Buddha-Dhamma Fellowship was formed. In 1985 the present property was most generously made available and in 1987, with considerable help from devotees in Thailand, it was purchased by the Buddha-Dhamma Fellowship and formally offered to the Sangha of the Four Quarters, present and to come.
The main building was originally a pair of nineteenth century cottages which have long been converted into one. Recent modifications have provided a substantial Shrine Room. The surrounding land includes the original garden with its abundant supply of apples, damsons and plums, its ponds and small meditation huts, and an area that was formerly part of an adjoining field which has increased the size of the garden and provided space for a carpark and room for a strip of newly planted woodland.
Also in the grounds is the English Shwe Dagon Pagoda, a gift from Burmese devotees and built under the guidance of Venerable Sayadaw U Thila Wunta who has built similar pagodas throughout the world. It is dedicated to the welfare and happiness of all beings.
In addition to its obvious functions, The Forest Hermitage is the headquarters of ANGULIMALA, the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy Organisation. And as a valuable resource for Buddhist teaching and practice, it also plays an important role in local education.