Ajahn Chah’s style of teaching and personality had a unique ability to reach people of other nationalities. Many foreigners came to learn from, train under, and ordain with Ajahn Chah. The first of these was the American-born monk, Ajahn Sumedho. In 1975, a group of Ajahn Chah’s foreign disciples were asked by villagers from Bung Wai to start a new branch monastery. Bung Wai was a small rural town not far from Ajahn Chah’s monastery. Ajahn Chah agreed and established Wat Pa Nanachat (The International Forest Monastery) as a monastic training center for internationals. Since that time, Wat Pa Nanachat has become a respected Forest monastery and has opened up additional monastic retreat centers, including some in remote forest and mountain locations. In the main monastery and these additional centers, Wat Pa Nanachat currently contains, under its umbrella, over fifty monks representing twenty-three nationalities.
In 1976, the English Saṅgha Trust invited Ajahn Sumedho to establish a Theravada monastery in London. Along with a small group of monks, Ajahn Sumedho heeded the request and established the first branch monastery in Ajahn Chah’s lineage outside of Thailand. Since that time, a number of Ajahn Chah branch monasteries have been created throughout Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand - including England, Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany, Portugal, Canada and the United States.
This development has included the establishment of a community of nuns (Sīladharā). The first residence specifically for nuns was set up in 1980 close to the Chithurst Monastery and the second in 1984 as part of the Amarāvati community.
All of these monasteries, under the guidance of many of Ajahn Chah’s senior Western disciples, are allowing the example of Forest monasticism to spread westward. They are permitting the direct and simple practice of the Buddha’s original teachings, as it has been preserved in the Forest tradition for 2500 years, to accompany Buddhism as it transfuses throughout and adapts to the Western world.
These monasteries are initiated only at the request of the lay community and are supported entirely by the lay community’s generosity. They serve as centers for monastic training, as well as provide teaching and practice opportunities for the lay community. Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery, the first monastery in the United States to be established by followers of Ajahn Chah, was founded in 1996 in the mountainous forests of northern California.