IT ALL STARTED IN 2005 WHEN…
A couple of Buddhist practitioners had recently retired to Florida. They knew the harshness of Michigan Winters, and felt compassion for the monks at Dhammasala Forest Monastery in Perry Michigan. So in February 2005, they invited several monks from Dhammasala to spend a few weeks in Florida.
The word quickly spread that there were forest monks staying in Florida. People began to come to offer food and hear a Dhamma talk. Soon, however, the monks returned to their monastery in Michigan.
The “Winter pilgrimage” to Florida continued for several years. Finally, in 2011, Than Nattakul was invited to spends the Rains Retreat in Florida. The community rented a house and a more consistent schedule was set up. At the time of Rains Retreat, the Community had gathered some money and it was decided to form a non-profit organization, The Buddhist Association of Central Florida (BACF).
BACF was formed with the goals in mind to raise enough support to found a Buddhist Monastery in the Thai Forest tradition. Fundraising efforts continued on a regular basis and a search for a suitable location began.
After several years of searching for a suitable location, a forested area in South Sarasota County in the village of Englewood, Florida came on to the market. BAXF contacted the seller and negotiated a price contingent upon receiving favorable zoning designation by the County.
In January, 2015, BACF hired a zoning consultant and began preparing for the zoning process. The process included three public hearings. The first hearing, the neighbors in the immediate vicinity of the proposed site were invited to listen and discuss the intended use of the land. It became immediately apparent the a Buddhist monastery on the site would be most welcomed in Englewood. As a result, the second two meetings, first with the County Zoning Commission and finally with the Board of County Commissioners went very well. There were no objections to having a forest monastery in the midst of Englewood. In October, 2015, ten months after beginning the process, zoning of the land was changed for use by religious organization.
Before closing the real estate transaction, BACF decided to reincorporate as Sarasota Forest Monastery (SFM). SFM became the owner of 8.7 forested acres.
Since acquiring the land, several monks of the Thai Forest tradition have come to spend various amounts of time in Englewood. Because there are no permanent structures on SFM grounds, the community has continued to rent a house close to the site to as a monks’ residence.
At the same time, the SFM Board of Directors continues to work with land development people and seek permits from the County to begin the construction of a kuti to properly house a monk or two. Detailed plans for the site development received approval by the County. The next step is to both raise sufficient funds and get approval from County officials to begin a phased construction on the site.