Venerable Achaan (Ajhan) Chah (1918-1992) of Wat Ba Pong, a temple in north-east Thailand, was one of the great masters of the Thai Forest Tradition of Theravada Buddhism and one of the most accessible to Westerners. Thai forest monks strictly adhere to the monastic disciplines and emphasize meditative practices and the realization of enlightenment. They live frugally with few possessions and commonly engage in a practice known as “tudong” in which they wander on foot through the countryside either on pilgrimage or in search of solitary retreat places in nature. During such wanderings, monks sleep wherever is available and eat only what is offered by laypeople along the way.
In 1996, some of Achaan Chah’s followers founded the Abhayagiri (Fearless Mountain) Buddhist Monastery in the mountainous forests north of Ukiah near Redwood Valley, California on land given them by Venerable Hsuan Hua, abbot of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah. The original Abhayagiri Monastery (Uttaravihara) built before the Current Era was in ancient Sri Lanka at Anuradhapura. That monastery was most notable for welcoming practitioners and teachers from many different Buddhist traditions. Theravada, Mahayana, and even Vajrayana practitioners lived there amicably alongside one another, distinct in their particular practices but not separate as communities.
Achaan Chah had many lay followers as well as monastic disciples, including Jack Kornfield who was very instrumental in popularizing meditation in the West.