The MonasteryW at Marp Jan, the 73rd branch monastery of Wat Nong Pah Pong, found its beginning in 1983 with two monks — Ajahn Anan and Ajahn Akaradech —, wandering on tudong in the thick forest surrounding Yai Da Mountain near Rayong in central Thailand. Although the scattered fishing villages and fruit plantations of the coast lay far from Ajahn Chah’s monastery in the Northeast where the two had ordained, the residents of Rayong province had received a visit from Wat Nong Pah Pong’s forest monks years earlier and some already knew of Ajahn Chah’s meditation tradition.
A local couple, Mr. Somphol and Ms. Sungwian Suwannachote, met the monks on their daily alms round and in an act of faith, offered a large piece of land for the monks to live and practice at. Cooled by the breezes of the nearby coast and protected by deep forest from the bustle of Rayong, Yai Da mountain offered an ideal environment for the new monastery. The newly-incumbent abbot, Tan Ajahn Anan, initially named the monastery “Samnak Song Subhaddabanpot”, or “Mountain of Prosperity”, in honor of his beloved teacher, Luang Por Chah Subhaddo.
While Ajahn Anan had already encountered the difficulties of living in the forest in his years of wandering tudong, the deep wilderness of Yai Da mountain offered a set of unique challenges to the three monks, one novice, and four laymen who were the first residents of the new monastery. The undeveloped land was inhabited by bears, mountain cats, barking deer, and monkeys, as well as by a variety of snakes including pythons, cobras, and king cobras. Although Wat Marp Jan has been malaria-free since 1991, in the early years most of the monks came down with the illness at least once. Tan Ajahn Anan had malaria no less than five times. Staying in simple monastic umbrella tents, the monks confronted such difficulties as one aspect of their practice of Dhamma and as a lesson in endurance.
For the first six months, the community slept on rudimentary bamboo platforms shielded from the rain by small monastic glot umbrella tents. A visiting group of laypeople, inspired by Ajahn Anan’s sincere commitment to practice, decided to support the construction of five small kutis for the monks to stay in. As word of the new monastery spread, local faithful continued to offer land and funds for building until, by the early 1990’s, the monastery now known to locals as “Wat Marp Jan” had grown by several hundred acres and featured a new meditation building —named “Sala Bodhinyana” —, large eating hall, and many modest forest dwellings for the growing resident community.
Tan Ajahn’s renown spread and Wat Marp Jan quickly became a central meeting place in the Southeast of Thailand for monks associated with the Thai forest tradition, receiving visits from renowned teachers including Luang Por Baen and Luang Dta Maha Boowa. In 1996, construction began on a new Uposatha Hall situated on a hill high above the monastery. Designed to accommodate over five hundred people, the new heart of the monastery provided a center where monks and novices could ordain and where the monastic community could hold its bi-weekly recitation of the Patimokkha, or monastic code. The new temple took five years to complete and was built to evoke the image of a boat as a metaphor for the crossing over the trials of samsara to the deliverance of Nibbana.
In subsequent years, both the monastery and Ajahn Anan’s reputation have continued to grow and today Wat Marp Jan accommodates a resident community of over sixty monks, including many Westerners who have come to Thailand to ordain. While the facilities of Wat Marp Jan are more complete than in its beginning years, Ajahn Anan continues to encourage his monks to wander tudong in remote forests and practice meditation in the simple conditions of Wat Marp Jan’s ten branch monasteries throughout Thailand and Australia.
In 2014, the monastery began construction of a large Chedi intended to house sacred artifacts and serve as a place of worship for visiting faithful. A combination of Theravada and Mahayana architectural styles, the monument will serve as a symbol of harmony between various branches of Buddhism, and of the hope that Wat Marp Jan may continue to serve as a place of refuge and inspiration for the growing international Buddhist community.