The Arrow River Forest Hermitage

formerly the Arrow River Community Center

[the Pavillion by the Falls] The Arrow River Forest Hermitage is a Theravadin Buddhist monastery and meditation center located in Northern Ontario, fifty miles southwest of Thunder Bay. We have 92 acres of land in a beautiful mixed forest. There are presently five all-weather dwelling places on the property as well as a meditation-hall and kitchen, a sauna and a well-equipped workshop.

[Ajahn Punnadhammo] The resident bhikkhu is Ajahn Punnadhammo who has been studying and practicing Buddhism since 1979 and was ordained in Thailand in the forest tradition of Ajahn Chah (novice ordination Feb. 1991, higher ordination Feb. 1992). Between 1990 and 1995 he was based at Wat Pah Nanachat, Thailand. Punnadhammo is a Canadian, born Michael Dominskyj in Toronto in 1955. He began studying the Dhamma under Kema Ananda, the founder and first teacher at the Arrow River Center.

Lay people are welcome to visit the Hermitage and short or long term retreats can be arranged. We require the ongoing presence of at least one lay person to act as monastery steward. This can be a rewarding experience for the right person.

History of Arrow River

[The shrine inside the pavillion] The Arrow River Community Center was founded by Kema Ananda, formerly Eric James Bell, in 1975. Kema Ananda was a student of Ven. Ananda Bodhi (later Namgyal Rinpoche.) Kema had been ordained as a Samanera (novice) but opted to disrobe and teach and practice as a layman after one year in robes. He was an expert in the Burmese Insight method of Mahasi Sayadaw and passed these teachings on to Ven. Punnadhammo.

From '75 through the late eighties the Center was run as a lay meditation center with the hope that it would become self-supporting. To this end a furniture manufacturing operation was begun and we produced many fine pieces of craftsmanship under the label "Artisans of Devon." This project began to unravel after a disastrous fire destroyed our shop.

Throughout this period many individuals benefited from the facilities and teachings of the Center by doing short or long term retreats. Two-week group retreats were held annually as well as individual sessions ranging from three-months to three-years. Kema Ananda himself did a three-year retreat in 1983-86 after which the focus of his teachings began to shift. More of the traditional practices such as loving-kindness and mindfulness of breathing began to be taught as well as a heightened emphasis on morality.

Ven. Punnadhammo began at the Center in 1979 and did a one-year solitary retreat in 1988-89. After this he went to Thailand to seek ordination. During this period Kema Ananda continued to teach in partnership with his wife Woon. In 1995 Kema Ananda contracted lung cancer and anticipating his imminent death he asked Ven. Punnadhammo to return to Canada and to assume management of the Center. Punnadhammo returned with the blessing of his seniors in the order in Nov. of that year and was able to spend some time with his beloved teacher before his death.

Arrow River Today and Future Plans

The Arrow River Forest Hermitage is now a monastery but it is our intention to continue the fine tradition established by Kema Ananda. We still offer the opportunity for serious students to pursue the practice of Dhamma in a quiet forest setting. Both men and women yogis are welcome without discrimination. We are ideally set-up for long term retreats and welcome serious enquiries. From the beginning of the Arrow River Center, Kema Ananda emphasized the principle of not charging for the Dhamma and although this policy has sometimes been difficult to maintain in the face of the financial reality we have always adhered to it as guaranteeing the purity of the teaching. We will continue to honour this principle in the future and the Arrow River Forest Hermitage will operate with what is freely given This is the time-honoured Buddhist principle of Dana.

For the foreseeable future we will try to have two or three monks and two or three lay people staying here most of the time. More can stay in the summer months if they are willing to "rough it". Eventually we hope to build additional kutis (dwellings) as resources become available through donation.

We also are willing to consider invitations for monks to travel elsewhere in North America to give teachings on a short-term basis.

In the long term it was Kema Ananda's dream that this Dhamma Center would be an establishment that would outlast him and would be a focal point of light and spiritual truth for centuries. May his dream come true!

Long Term Retreats

The karmic circumstances that allow a being to take human form are rare indeed. It was said by the Buddha that for a being in the lower realms to take human birth is as difficult as for a blind tortoise swimming in the great ocean and surfacing for breath once every hundred years to put his head through a yoke floating at random upon the surface. As rare as this is, rarer yet is the opportunity to pursue the ultimate human experience of transcendental liberation. If a being has the ability and opportunity to practice meditation he would be foolish indeed to let it pass, not knowing how many lifetimes will pass before conditions are again ripe.

Those with the fortunate karmic conditions to find time and energy to practice long retreats in solitude are rare and blessed. The experience of exploring the deep aspects of mind is not easy to obtain. We hope to continue the service of providing space for serious retreatants. There is no fixed charge for doing retreats here, we operate entirely on what is freely given and never refuse anyone because of economic hardship. Your support makes this possible.

Anyone interested in exploring this route to liberation can write us here at Arrow River. Before attempting a retreat of three-months or longer you should have some experience with shorter sessions preferably in a group.

Monastic Steward

According to the vinaya for monks we are not allowed to store our food from day-to-day or to handle any form of money. We can only eat food that is offered to us that day by a lay person. This maintains our dependency on the lay community. In forest monasteries in non-buddhist countries this means that we need at least one lay person living with us at the monastery at all times fulfilling the functions of monastic steward. This is an on-going situation and we hope to keep it happening by having individuals stay for a period of several months. This is a great opportunity for anyone interested in simple country living and learning about traditional Buddhism. We offer only room and board by way of material support and it would be a big asset if you had your own vehicle. The duties are not onerous. Cooking for the monks is easy because we eat only once a day and take whatever is offered. Besides that there is the purchasing of supplies and some general maintenance chores. There is plenty of time for practice or study. Anyone interested in staying here as a steward for at least three months at any time in the future should email or write to us at the Hermitage. For more information go to the Arrow River visitor's section of this web-site.

Support of the Hermitage

For the monks the rules of discipline (vinaya) require that we be totally dependent on the gifts of the laity. We may not hold money or property of our own and are not allowed to grow or store our own food. This dependency, so strange to North American ideals of self-reliance, was wisely established by the Buddha to keep the monks in contact with the laity; and to keep us humble and honest.

As a traditional monastery, Arrow River Forest Hermitage is entirely dependent on the donations of the laity. The principle of Dana or generosity is the first of the paramitas (perfections). To support an endeavour such as this, the establishment of a traditional forest monastery in the Canadian woods, is to make incalculable merit. Anyone helping out is making merit that will be of great benefit to the establishment of the Dhamma in the West (land of the outer barbarians!) and this will contribute to their own well-being and happiness for many lifetimes to come.

Miserly people certainly do not go to heaven. Fools for sure do not praise generosity, but the wise man who takes pleasure in giving is thereby happy hereafter.(Dhp 177)

Speak the truth, don't get angry, and always give, even if only a little, when you are asked. By these three principles you can come into the company of the devas.(Dhp 224)

A noble disciple by giving food gives four things, what four? She gives long-life, beauty, happiness and strength. And by giving long-life, she is herself endowed with long life, human or divine. By giving beauty, she is herself endowed with beauty, human or divine. By giving happiness, she is herself endowed with happiness, human or divine. By giving strength, she is herself endowed with strength, human or divine.(Ang IV, 57)

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