Episode 194 :: Charlie Fisher :: Meditation in the Wilds: Recluses, Hermits and Forest Monks

| February 28, 2014 | 6 Comments


Charlie Fisher

Author Charlie Fisher joins us to speak about his new book, Meditation in the Wild: Buddhism’s Origin in the Heart of Nature.

Contemporary practice may tend to be a bit… urban. We’re crowded, most of us are in cities, and the concept of being a forest monastic is fairly distant from our experience. But how might immersion in nature affect our practice?

Charlie Fisher was a professor of sociology at Brandeis University in Massachusetts for 30 years. Among other subjects, he taught his students to meditate as part of the regular curriculum. From the mid 1970s through the mid 1990s Charlie was associated with the Insight Meditation Society. In 2007 he published a book on nature and meditation entitled Dismantling Discontent: Buddha’s Way Through Darwin’s World. An inadvertent heir to the Thai Forest Tradition, Charlie has spent long periods meditating in the woods with wild beings. Charlie lives in Woodacre, CA, occasionally teaches meditation, and assists in natural history field trips.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Evolution Tea Shisha.


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Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of this podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. You can visit his website to hear more of his music, get the full discography, and view his upcoming tour dates.

Category: The Secular Buddhist Podcast

Ted Meissner

About the Author ()

Ted Meissner is the host of the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science. He has been a meditator since the early 90’s, has been interviewed for Books and Ideas, Mindful Lives, and The Whole Leader podcasts, spoken about mindfulness with various groups including Harvard Humanist Hub, and has written for Elephant Journal and The International Journal of Whole Person Care. He is the Executive Director of the Secular Buddhist Association, host of the SBA’s official podcast The Secular Buddhist, and is on the Advisory Board for the Spiritual Naturalist Society. Ted’s background is in the Zen and Theravada traditions, he is a regular speaker on interfaith panel discussions, and is interested in examining the evolution of contemplative practice in contemporary culture. Ted teaches Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care & Society, where he is the Manager of Online Programming and Community Development.

Comments (6)

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  1. David S says:

    I would have liked to have heard more specifics on the forest traditions he was commenting on. What were the forest practices? How were practitioner’s experiences shaped by being surrounded by nature?

    I found that comment on Ajahn Chah not teaching the western students the forest practices intriguing. I have not heard this before. Does Jack Kornfield agree with this statement of his education? If so then, wouldn’t that equate to westerners being literally guided away from Ajahn Chah’s source?

    It wasn’t clear to me what the author’s thoughts about nature in relation to meditation were.

    • Charlie Fisher CharlieF. says:

      David S.
      Ajaan Cha spent only a few days with Ajaan Mun, the monk who inspired the renewal of forest practice in Thailand for the first fifty years of the twentieth century. Different students of Ajaan Mun took different aspects of his teaching: one, the practice of sitting with tigers; another, sitting with spirits in cave. By the time that Ajaan Cha settled down during the Vietnam War, conditions for forest practice had become difficult. You can see details of why this was the case and about Ajaan Mun’s teachings in “Meditation in the Wild.” While with Ajaan Mun, Ajaan Cha picked up something about using careful attention to behavior in the monastery as a vehicle for practice. This he conveyed to his students. The Amaravati monks seem to embody this along with his sense of humor. I have loved sitting with them over the years. Forest practice was no longer viable so like any good teacher Ajaan Cha shifted the emphasis of his teaching. Jack, in his turn, took something of Ajaan Cha’s spirit, mixed it with his psychological training and applied it to Western circumstances. You can feel something of Ajaan Cha in all of his students. That Ajaan Cha spoke little of his forest practice was a loss but it did not diminish its profound effect on him and in turn his students. Sitting with him at IMS in 1979 or 1980 changed my life.

      The subject of nature, i.e. human nature, the natural world and human’s place in it, is the subject of the two books I wrote. The first places humans, our suffering and meditation in natural history as understood from a Darwinian perspective, the second focuses on the history of meditators encounter with raw nature. I am not ducking your question but have not myself figured out how to summarize it more briefly than I have done in them. Charlie

      • David S says:

        Thanks Charlie for the response, now I understand what you meant about Ajahn Chah not teaching the forest tradition to his students. I have read books of his teachings and found his way of talking about the mind as a sort of animistic/anthropomorphic thing very captivating and interesting.

        I also relate to the movement towards a natural environment for retreats and can see the appeal of being immersed in nature. As a teenager and twenty-something I often went to a family cabin by myself. It was interesting how after about the fourth day alone in the woods my mind and body shifted into a relaxed calm revealing how wound up I normally am in city living. I also have seen how looking at the leafy patterns of a tree can settle my mind. I think such a visual pattern is so complex that my mind can not grasp it entirely and helps shift my viewing away from seeing it as a sole object. Then there are the smells and sounds carried in the wind. All these things stimulate my mind more than a man-made environment towards interest.

  2. Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins says:

    I think this episode is broken… at least, it doesn’t show how long it is, won’t play, and won’t download for me.

    I was hoping I’d learn more about “forest traditions” as I consider a walk from my town, through the mountains/forest, up to Bear Lake. I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy novels and wondering what it would actually be like to “walk across New Zealand” and make camps, set watches, forage for food, etc. It could even be research for writings of my own. I figured I might be able to incorporate some “forest traditions” as well to see what they might be like and how they might interact with “adventuring” as well.

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