Biography of Ajahn Kumāro Bhikkhu, Resident Monk
Ajahn was born on March 18, 1957 in Suffern, New York and grew up in Deer Park on Long Island, New York. While in High School, he attended a lecture given by teachers of Transcendental Meditation (TM), and soon after, started to practice TM, which had a profound and uplifting effect on his mental health. He received an Associate in Science Degree (Major in Engineering Science) from the State University of New York, Agricultural and Technical College at Farmingdale, NY in March 1977, and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque in December 1979. One of the reasons Ajahn went to New Mexico was to associate with Native American Indians due to a childhood interest in their culture.
He worked as a Civil Engineer specializing in the design of highways. The professional career began by working for the California Department of Transportation in San Diego, California between January 1980 and December 1983. Not content as a civil engineer, and in search of the meaning of life, he left San Diego in December 1983 for the spiritual community Shambhala Sanctuary located in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in southern Ecuador. He traveled through Mexico, Central America and parts of South America to arrive at Shambhala Sanctuary in March 1984, but he did not find any answers at Shambhala Sanctuary, only confusion and left after a short stay. After this, he returned to the United States and worked as a Professional Civil Engineer, designing highways for various companies from April 1984, and resigned from his final employer in Ohio in September 1995. While working as an engineer, he read religious books of many traditions and investigated spiritual paths that promise freedom from experiential suffering.
Ajahn felt a calling to pursue a spiritual life, this caused him to leave Ohio at the beginning of October 1995 in a van and traveled across America, camping in State and National Parks with the intention to meditate, but found meditation difficult. He was tired of traveling and camping, and felt lost without guidance from a spiritual teacher. He read Geshe Rabten’s book Treasury of Dharma and learnt that a spiritual guide is important for the training of mind along a spiritual path. Using the classified section of a Buddhist magazine, he telephoned Buddhist Centers in search of a Teacher.
He went to Tucson, Arizona at the end of October 1995 for the winter due to a felt connection with Lama Karma Tenpa Gyeltsen through telephone conversations and arrived in Tucson at the end of October 1995 to study and practice Tibetan Buddhism with Lama Tenpa at the Bodhisattva Institute, who is connected to the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, in which the Very Venerable Kalu Rinpoche was a senior teacher. After this, he participated in the Refuge Ceremony in January 1996 with Refuge Master Yogi Kalsang Rinpoche; he took on the refuge name of Karma Tsering, which means “long life.” In May 1996, he received from Lama Tenpa the five precepts: abstain from killing, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct, and intoxicants.
After this, he sold his possessions, including his van, and left Tucson, Arizona in October 1997 with Lama Tenpa and other Bodhisattva Institute members for a pilgrimage to Buddhist India and aspired to stay in India at Sonada Monastery. While there, Lama Tenpa performed the ‘ordination’ in November 1997 in Bodhigaya, India at the Bodhi tree and became a Tibetan Buddhist Monk in order to fit in with the other monastics at Sonada. Lama said that the vows were temporary and would not be effective upon return to the United States. Soon after, Lama Tenpa and members of the Bodhisattva Institute returned to the United States. He then traveled to Kalu Rinpoche’s Samdrup Darjay Choeling Monastery in Sonada, India, to live and practice with the monks; while there, he studied the Tibetan language and taught English. At Sonada Monastery, he learned that Lama Tenpa was part of a serious scandal in Tucson, after which, Lama left the Bodhisattva Institute and disappeared.
He left India for Nepal in February 1998 in pursuit of a new Indian Visa and applied for a Student Visa in March 1998 from the Indian Embassy in Katmandu, Nepal. Officials gave assurance that the Visa would eventually be approved from Delhi, India. He left Katmandu in beginning of April 1998 while waiting for Visa approval and joined six Italian and Serpa guides for a hike across Buddhist Nepal near Mt. Everest. He left the tour group in mid April and returned to Katmandu in order to learn whether the Embassy had approved the Visa. The Indian Embassy in Katmandu expressed that approval of the Visa would require still more time, but the existing return flight airline ticket had to be used before it expired. Therefore, he left Katmandu at the end of April 1998 for San Francisco, California.
While in San Francisco, he met Venerable Lama Lodru Rinpoche at the end of April 1998. Lama Lodru is the Spiritual Director of Kagyu Droden Kunchab (KDK) in San Francisco, the teacher of Lama Tenpa and disciple of the Very Venerable Kalu Rinpoche. Lama Lodru said that Lama Tenpa was not an authentic monk or Lama and had no authority to ordain anyone. At the invitation of Lama Lodru, he moved onto KDK Retreat Land in Laytonville, Mendocino County, California at the beginning of May 1998. He left KDK Retreat Land briefly and traveled from California to New York in order to be properly ordained in the Tibetan monastic tradition. His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche presided over the Novice Monastic Ceremony in the beginning of June 1998 at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery in Woodstock, New York; there he was given the novice monastic name Karma Tsultrim Rapje, which means “accomplishment in adhering to the precepts.” At KDK Retreat Land, he was living alone and had little guidance for a new monastic, also felt spiritually stuck and lonely. Therefore, he left KDK Retreat Land in February 1999 and began to research Buddhist Centers and other Buddhist traditions.
Greatly inspired by Venerable Thay Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Stepping into Freedom – An Introduction to Buddhist Monastic Training, he traveled to Maple Forest Monastery in South Woodstock, Vermont at the end of April 1999 in order to live and practice with the monks. Venerable Thay was a teacher of the Zen Buddhist tradition. Maple Forest Monastery is associated with Venerable Thay’s Plum Village monastic community located in France. He left Maple Forest Monastery at the end of December 1999 and arrived at Plum Village, Upper Hamlet in January 2000. He received teachings from Venerable Thay at Maple Forest Monastery and at Plum Village. At Plum Village, he experienced the greater community. He became restless at Plum Village and discontented with the lifestyle. In hindsight, it must be acknowledged that the teachings of Venerable Thay Thich Nhat Hanh are not defective, nor were they the direct cause for leaving the community; leaving the Plum Village Community was the result of spiritual immaturity. While living at Plum Village, he studied and became inspired by Jack Kornfield’s book Living Dharma – Teachings of Twelve Buddhist Masters. He left Plum Village in March 2000 to explore the Theravada Buddhist tradition and started to practice vipassana meditation.
At the beginning of April 2000, he moved into a trailer in rural West Virginia, lived alone, read the suttas of the Theravada Pāli Canon, and practiced vipassana and metta meditation. Here, he meditated about four times a day for an hour and half per session, and attended retreats at the Bhāvanā Society; he left the trailer at the end of July 2003.
After this, he traveled to Thailand at the beginning of November 2003 and arrived at Wat Pah Nanachat, the International Forest Monastery, in Ubon Ratchatani, Thailand in January 2004. He was ordained as an Anagarika (postulant) in January 2004 and a Samaṇera (novice) in July 2004 at Wat Pah Nanachat. He ordained as a Bhikkhu (fully ordained monk) in July 2005, Luang Por Liem Thitadhammo was the preceptor overseeing the ordination at Wat Nong Pah Pong, Thailand. Luang Por Liem is a disciple of the Venerable Ajahn Chah (Phra Bodhinyana Thera). Venerable Ajahn Chah’s Buddhist lineage is associated with the Thai Forest Tradition.
He lived in Thailand for more than thirteen years between 2003 and 2017; six months as an Anagarika (postulant), one year as a Samaṇera (novice) and twelve years as a Forest Bhikkhu (monk). He lived during the annual Rains Retreat at Wat Pah Nanachat, Wat Ratanawan, Wat Dao Dam, Dream Valley Khao Yai and Wat Boonyawad. Outside of the Rains Retreat, he lived at Wat Poo Jom Gom, Wat Marp Jan, Wat Pah Ampawan, and Wat Nong Pah Pong. The three month annual Rains Retreat is usually observed from July to October. At this time monastics remain in one place to practice and study the Dhamma, the Teachings of the Buddha. The number of years a monk has spent in monastic life is determined by counting the number of Rains since ordination.
He left Thailand in 2017 in order to celebrate mother’s 90th birthday and to experience living as a monastic in the West. He arrived at Temple Forest Monastery (TFM), New Hampshire at the beginning of April 2017. He lived with the TFM Community for five years helping with the maintenance and growth of the new monastery. He left TFM in April 2022, however, the heart remains and he is still a member of the TFM Saṅgha (Community), in order to help establish the Kalyāṇa-Mitta Meditation Center in Asheville, North Carolina with Elisha Buhler. Ajahn arrived in Asheville on May 1, 2022. Please note that Kalyāṇa-Mitta Meditation Center is not a monastery nor a branch of TFM.