About the Monastery
Birken Forest Buddhist Monastery (‘Birken’) is a Canadian Theravada Buddhist monastery following the Thai forest tradition of Ajahn Chah. In 1994, Canadian-born Abbot Ajahn Sona returned from monastic training in Thailand and established a primitive shack monastery in the coast mountains of British Columbia, naming it “Birken” due to its proximity to the Birkenhead Lake Provincial Park. As the community of monastics and lay supporters grew, Birken was reborn in its second, larger location near Princeton, B.C. In 2001, Birken relocated to its current and final resting place in a secluded forest location just south of Kamloops, B.C. The monastery is also known by its Pali name ‘Sītavana’, translated as ‘cool forest grove’.
The Birken residence (vihara) provides nearly 10,000 sq.ft. of comfortable, green living space, including a spectacular meditation hall overlooking the surrounding forest, marsh and bird sanctuary. Due to its remote location, Birken operates entirely off-grid, with solar panels supplying power for most of the year. Over the years, many improvements have been made to bring the monastery to a very high level of energy efficiency and a model of simple, green monasticism. The basement of the main building contains a walking meditation hall, library and dining area. The main building also contains a large kitchen, several guest rooms, and four shared bathrooms. The monastics and many of the resident lay stewards live in small cabins (called ‘kutis’) a short walk away from the main building.
For over 2,500 years, the monastic tradition has survived solely through the generous support of the lay community. Theravada monks and nuns must refrain from growing, cooking or storing their own food, and are prohibited from handling money. To this day, lay communities in countries around the world generously provide monastics with their basic requisites of food, clothing, lodging and medicine. In return, monastics offer laypeople the highest gifts of Dhamma teachings and spiritual mentorship. Birken is supported entirely by donations and the voluntary labour of resident lay stewards. Guests from all walks of life are welcome to visit the monastery and experience the liberating teachings of the Buddha for themselves.
Ajahn Sona (Abbot)
Ajahn Sona is a first-wave Western Theravada ordained monk and the Abbot of Birken Forest Buddhist Monastery (‘Birken’). With over thirty years in the robes, he is now referred to as ‘Luang Por’ (‘Venerable Father’) by his closest disciples – a traditional honorific for senior monks of the Thai Forest Tradition.
After several years of practice as a lay hermit, the young Bhikkhu Sona took full monastic ordination in 1989 with Bhante Henepola Gunaratana Mahathera at the first Theravada forest monastery in the United States (The Bhavana Society, West Virginia). He later switched to the Thai Forest Tradition and trained at Ajahn Chah’s monasteries in northeastern Thailand for several years. Ajahn Sona now draws on both the Sri Lankan and Thai scholastic and meditative traditions in his teachings, in addition to his modern western sensibilities. His pre-monastic education in philosophy, humanities, and classical Western music have aided him in understanding the Western psyche and in establishing paradigm bridges between East and West.
Ajahn Sona is also deeply interested in the ecological movements of this environmentally critical time, both at the practical and philosophical levels. The off-grid monastery, which he has carefully curated over the last two decades, employs the latest in green design technologies and principles.
Discover Ajahn Sona’s latest Dhamma Talks on:
Learn more about Ajahn Sona’s personal journey into monastic life:
Ajahn Sona: 20 Years a Monk on YouTube
Jotipālo Bhikkhu is a Buddhist monk, born in 1965. He ordained at the Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in Redwood Valley, CA, USA in June 2000.
As a monk, he has lived at Wat Pah Nanachat (Thailand), Arrow River Forest Hermitage (Thunder Bay, ON, Canada), Vimutti Buddhist Monastery (New Zealand) and the Pacific Hermitage (White Salmon, WA, USA); the majority of his time has been at Abhayagiri.
Prior to ordination, he lived for one year at a Hindu ashram called the Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and one year at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts.
He is a graduate of Wabash College (class of 1988) where he majored in Art and Classics.
Ajahn Jotipālo arrived at Birken in June 2019 after having spent a year studying iconography at the Collegeville Institute in Minnesota. Last year he was on retreat using iconography as a meditation practice. Ajahn Jotipālo was fortunate to get his work permit extended for another two years until June 2021. He is using this time to help around the monastery with firewood, building some outdoor furniture, and also developing a meditation he is calling “Sauntering into Silence”.
Since arriving at Birken, Ajahn Jotipālo has also been studying videography, and is making several videos a week. If a coronavirus vaccine has been approved by next summer, Ajahn Jotipālo hopes to do a two or three month long hike with some Catholic monk friends and film a documentary of their journey. His learning about videography is part of that project.
You can see some of his icons at iconucon.com and his videos at his YouTube channel, Sauntering into Silence.